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(en) Ireland, new position paper of Workers Solidarity Movements* July 2004 conference - Our Perspectives

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Thu, 19 Aug 2004 06:55:43 +0200 (CEST)


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1.1 The Workers Solidarity Movement is a relatively young
organisation, in existence since 1984. As has been pointed out
elsewhere we have no native anarchist tradition to draw on nor
do we have any base in the working class we can call our own.
1.2 This situation should not daunt us. All organisations,
no matter what their aim is, start somewhere. Anarchists
have time and time again, in many countries and in the
most difficult of circumstances grappled with the problem
of building and maintaining a mass working class
influence. It isn't easy but it can be done.

1.3 More than anything else we have to be sure about
what we are and what our politics are all about - in
practice. Likewise we have to be sure in our minds about
our role and about what practical next steps have to be
taken in building the organisation we want.

1.4 It is important that we do not try to take short cuts of
any type. If there is one thing we have plenty of, it is time.
We should not fool ourselves into thinking otherwise. We
have the time now to make mistakes and to learn from
them, just as we also have the time to make small gains
without burning ourselves out in the process.

1.5 Anarchist ideas, as a fighting tradition of the
world-wide working class, have a magnificent history.
From Russia to China to South America to Mexico to
North America and of course to Spain the influence has
been huge.

1.6 But if history shows us the great influence of
anarchism in the working class, it also shows us its
decline and marginalisation in all but a few countries
today. Why did this happen?

1.7 It is important to see that revolutionary ideas ebb and
flow in their popularity; that truly revolutionary ideas like
our own are tied in their fortunes to the fortunes of our
class. The working class is only in existence as the class it
is now, for a relatively short historical period. In that time
it has pushed forward and been pushed back. These
changes have sometimes been gradual but at other times
they have been condensed into a few years of revolution
and counter-revolution. Times that see a ripening of
conditions for major world change come (say 1917 to
1922) but if they are lost (as they were) long and deep
reaction follows (as in the 1920's and 30's). The
normalisation of capitalist relations since World War II
has inevitably pushed the working class forward again.
The direct experience of workers and their conflict with
ideas that constantly lead them into unnecessary defeat
means that reformism of either the social democratic or
Stalinist variety has come under attack. On the world stage
even greater changes have occurred -the mass
mobilisations that destroyed the Eastern European
Stalinist regimes have all played their part in exposing the
myth of Russian "socialism".

More recently we have seen new struggles break out
against neo-liberal policies around the world. The forces
drawn into these struggles are more open to revolutionary
anarchist ideas than has been the case for many decades.

1.8 Such is part of the reason for anarchism's popularity,
decline and marginalisation from the working class and
now since the 1960's a renewed interest and re-emergence
of our ideas around the world. Anarchist groups have
appeared in countries where hitherto no tradition had
existed. Organisations have been revamped. The growing
anarchist "movement" is tremendously important. Though
there are huge problems - the most important aspect we
should recognise is the process that this re-emergence is
part of.

1.9 The WSM is a small organisation. So are many
anarchist organisations the world over, but the conditions
for this to be overcome are better now that they have been
for a long time.

1.10 It is important that we have a proper appraisal of the
past, of the ups and downs in anarchist history and
recognise the close association between it and the ups and
downs of the ideas of mass working class self-activity for
social change. If we do so we can see the reason for
anarchism's present marginalisation. Also we will not be
too taken aback by our present small numbers. Then we
have a good chance of not falling into the trap of
pretending we are bigger and capable of more than we are
right now. To fall into that trap would be to substitute
wishful thinking for reality; to ignore the wider social and
economic conditions that are real determinants of growth
for revolutionary ideas and organisation. There is no place
for such a tendency in the WSM. It is a recipe for sectism
and irrelevance.

1.11 When the WSM was formed we understood that the
period we were living through was one of a low level of
struggle. It was a period of low levels of confidence among
workers, of low levels of activity in the class struggle.
Where struggles break out they are more often than not of
a defensive nature. It was important that we understood
this. If we had not we could easily have disappeared into a
"cul-de-sac" of looking for "alternatives" and imaginary
"new areas of struggle". This in turn would have led to
demoralisation. This is what did happen to those on the
left who got caught up in republicanism "left turns",
community politics and counter-cultural lifestylism. All
these were attempts to substitute wishful thinking for
reality.

1.12 The overthrowal of the Eastern European regimes
meant the death of the orthodox Communist Parties as a
serious political force within the working class movement.
The so-called "existing socialism" of pre-1989 Eastern
Europe is no longer seen as a model. The whole
Bolshevik/Leninist tradition has been called into question
by many of its former supporters. Because they believed
the Eastern European regimes to be a form of socialism
(even if a 'deformed' one), they saw in its defeat a sign
that capitalism was triumphant, possibly invincible. Hence
many disillusioned Leninists disappeared or merged into
'modernised' social democracy. They came to support
'market socialism' and deny the possibility of revolutionary
change.

The collapse of the Eastern European regimes, coming
during a period of low levels of class struggle, fuelled the
drive to declare socialism a 'failed idea'. This has had a
major effect on those people who looked - in however
general a way - towards Eastern Europe and social
democracy, towards the state as a mechanism for bringing
about social change. It has also disoriented much of the
Trotskyist movement. All of this contributed to the sense
of defeatism which pervaded much of the 'left' in the
1990's

1.13 The 1990's was a decade of real defeats. The
redundancies in the previously secure state and semi-state
sectors, the erosion of shop-floor organisation, the
lowering of expectations to such a degree that CE
schemes were regarded as a good thing, and so on. But
this does not turn us into defeatists. We know that the
possibility of revolutionary change will occur. It will
probably not occur in the near future but the nature of
capitalism makes it certain that the possibility will rise at
some stage.

1.14 The end of the 1990's saw the growth of a new
radicalism around the issue of globalisation. Anarchists
played a significant part in building this movement and in
giving it an anti-capitalist pole. Key to this was a move
from protest about the policies of the World Bank etc, to
action against the conferences of these institutions
whether of a 'non-violent' form as with the blockade of the
WTO in Seattle or the more confrontational black bloc
tactics of Quebec and Prague.

This meant the rapid growth in numbers of activists who
described themselves as anarchists or as being close to
anarchism. Because these activists were overwhelmingly
young people and because of the nature of the summit
protests they had no strong connection with local
struggles, either on the community or workplace level. In
many English speaking countries the existing anarchist
movement played little or no organisational role in the
development of this movement which meant that there
was little or no growth in the size of the existing
organisations. In some cases new organisations were
formed but for the most part this movement did not
develop beyond loose networks that were active around
the summit protests.

1.15 We cannot predict the future with any precision but
we can learn a few lessons from the past.

* Even a minor pick up in the economy can revive
confidence and see a rebuilding of rank & file
organisation. The "mini-boom" does not have to be huge.
The economic recovery here in the late 1960's after
decades of recession and emigration, saw us leap to the
top of the international strike league.

* Sometimes the bosses have to push beyond what
workers will accept. So far the bosses have not been able
to push wages (throughout the European economy as a
whole) down to a level that can guarantee them a revival
of massive profits. They are pushing us back slowly but
when they push too hard they have often met with
resistance. Despite the dominance of ideas which promote
(or at least accept) the 'market forces' argument within
both the working class and society generally, there has
been resistance. The most dramatic was the Zapatista
uprising in Mexico. At home we saw thousands of poorly
paid and part-time workers in Dunnes Stores fight back
against the rule of market forces in their workplaces.
Wherever there is oppression there will be resistance. The
bosses risk an explosion of anger as they push for more
and more cuts in our standard of living.

* Sometimes it is a political crisis that sparks things off,
e.g.. Spain in 1936. At home we saw the creation of
unofficial shop stewards committees that were able to call
for (limited) strike action in several towns when the union
leaders condemned the 1981 H-block campaign.

While understanding the above, we must also understand
that in order to sustain resistance and spread it; and move
from the defensive to the offensive the working class
needs a goal of its own. Only with a vision of a new society
can we combat the 'logic' of authoritarianism and the
market economy.

There is no room for major economic concession and
reform in the modern capitalism of today. Recession and
crisis leave the ruling class less room for manoeuvre than
they had twenty years ago. Instead they are moving
towards a division of the major industrial countries into
three blocs (centred on the EU, NAFTA and a
Japan/Australia axis). Trade rivalries between these will
increase. As in the past, trade wars could become military
wars as competing blocs fight for resources and markets.
Internationally, the largest movements of rebellion against
the 'logic' of capitalism have been expressed in reactionary
forms: religious fundamentalism and the growth of the far
right. All of this permits us to say that the long-term
choice for humanity is between anarchism and barbarism

1.16 We don't know the exact conditions under which the
tide will turn. But we are confident that it will turn. And
when workers begin to move into action again there will
be a lot of stored up anger to be brought out.

2 2.1 Having stated our assessment of the times we are
living in, we also have to look at the condition of the
WSM. We have done a lot that we can be very proud of
but we have also made bad mistakes in the few years after
our formation and it is these we had to identify. Though
serious errors occurred we survived and gained a deeper
and clearer understanding of our politics. There is nothing
wrong with making mistakes as long as we learn from
them and are better prepared in the future.

2.2 We were encouraged by the destruction of the Eastern
European regimes and the resultant increase in interest in
anarchism. However we accepted that our situation in
Ireland made it is very hard to build in the 1990's. We
were able to hold the WSM together with its libertarian
socialist politics intact. Our level of activity must be
compatible with the numbers we have and must ensure
that the discussion of our ideas and tradition is not
neglected.

2.3 In the 1984-1987 period we had presumed that anyone
who joined the WSM had a clear understanding of
anarchism, of its methods and its values. So we
underestimated the importance of education about
anarchism and concentrated almost exclusively on
discussion of strategy and tactics. Branch meetings should
always include a lead off and discussion on some relevant
topic. We can never learn too much and it is important
training in communicating ideas. It is left to branches to
decide on how many meetings they wish to advertise to
non-members.

2.4 We aim to build an organisation of workers and
working class people around the ideas of anarchism. In
doing this we realise that there is an intrinsic link between
what we do now and whether we will achieve our
anarchist goal. We have to be clear in our minds that our
ideas will only grow in so much as they are based on the
direct day to day needs and struggles of our class. Our
orientation around this, especially in the next while, is
crucial. It will show that we have learnt from the past and
are forging an identity separate from the other
organisations on the left.

2.5 i) Over the last couple of decades, the outline of the
left and left politics has altered substantially. Elsewhere we
have analysed that this re-arrangement is being driven by
a number of forces a) the collapse of Stalinism b) the
prolonged attack by right-wing forces and market driven
politics that began in earnest in the late 70s, and c) the
collapse of social democracy as a movement as it achieved
power in a host of countries in the 80s and 90s.

ii) The combined effect of all this was a sharp reduction in
the size of the left as well as a crisis of confidence within it
as a movement. The 'left' now is quite different to that
which existed in the late 70s and early 80s - in terms of
size but also capability and confidence.

iii) Organisations such as our own - and the SP and the
SWP - that had been disregarded in the past, increasingly
found themselves filling a real vacuum that exists. This
was clearly visible in some of campaigns fought in the
1990's particularly in the Water Charges and over
Abortion Rights.

2.6 We do want to recruit more members - but that is not
an end in itself. New members have to be won on a clear
understanding of anarchism and of the general orientation
and strategy of the WSM.

2.7 We know that when we apply our ideas we will have to
work alongside other forces that will have different and
more reformist or right wing ideas. Some will be openly
hostile to anarchism. It is by forming united fronts around
specific issues that we will create an audience for our
politics. On a day-to-day level we have to be capable of
combining a "hardness" on politics with an ability to
initiate action with people who don't share all our ideas.
We have to be confident about our politics and be seen as
good militants.

We understand that that the process of changing society
depends on mass debate, mass participation, mass
politics. We will do what we can to encourage this by
relating positively to such developments and by always
emphasising the value of participatory rather than
representative politics. It is only through involvement in
such politics that people gain a sense of their own
capabilities, that we break down the passivity and
dependence that have allowed elites to take control of
popular movements and channel them into yet another
episode of changing rulers instead of changing social
relations.

2.8 We know there is a need for concrete international
links with other anarchist-communist organisations, and
we seek to utilise the contacts we do have with other
organisation within the ''platformist'' tradition. We should
also take note of other class struggle anarchist groupings
abroad with whom we certainly do have real differences
but also share many things.

We recognise that syndicalism is the largest organised
current in anarchism. We locate its major weakness in its
failure to develop a systematic political opposition to
authoritarian ideas in the broader working class
movement, and to recognise the need for the working
class to take complete power in a dual-power situation.
And it is a very serious weakness - the defeat of the
Spanish revolution was the greatest defeat ever suffered by
our movement. However this must not blind us to the
positive aspects of syndicalism. It is based on the needs
and struggles of our class, and it organises in such a way
as to break down the division between activists and
passive followers, leaders and led.

We certainly see it as inadequate for the task of
overthrowing capitalism. We also see it as part of the same
movement as ourselves. Elsewhere the WSM has outlined
its disagreements with the syndicalists. These relate to its
strategy and tactics. As to the kind of society it wishes to
create, its orientation to the organised working class, and
its advocacy of direct action - we are in agreement.
Accordingly, we wish to maintain and extend our dialogue
with unions like the SAC and CGT, and with the affiliates
of the IWA.

3 3.1 Before entering into any activity we must first work
out, given our size and other commitments, what we can
do. There will sometimes be campaigns with which we
fully agree and would love to get involved in. However,
given our size we would not be doing either the
organisation or the particular campaign any good by
over-stretching ourselves. We are under no obligation to
get involved in everything progressive that is happening.
We have only so much energy, so many members, so
much time. Where we take on a project we should ensure
that we can give it our full attention and available
resources.

Members who attend campaign meetings on behalf of the
organisation do so as delegates, reporting back and
keeping a written record of who attended meetings, what
was decided, political points/issues raised by other political
groups, etc. As often as possible we will send two
delegates to campaign meetings, one being "permanent"
and the other rotating. This will ensure that everyone can
feel part of the campaign and not just a foot soldier for
dishing out leaflets, doing stalls or whatever. Where a
campaign is ongoing, a discussion on where it is at and
the issues likely to come up over the next few weeks will
be held at least once a month, preferably at the IB meeting
to allow input from outside Dublin.

3.2 As it becomes possible to build branches it will be
necessary for experienced members to give a lot of time in
the initial months, attending their meetings, giving advice
and educationals, helping them with practicalities of
political activity. It would be unfair and irresponsible to
leave a new branch to 'sink or swim'. None of this
precludes people joining the WSM in areas where there is
not already a member.

We must ensure that we stay well informed about local
community based protests (especially where we have a
member/candidate member/contact), and - where
resources permit - have a presence where we agree with
what is being fought for.

3.3 Where it is practical we should organise public
meetings which are well prepared and well publicised.
This means extensive postering, contacting sympathisers
and other publicity; in addition to well prepared speeches
and, where possible, follow-up activities.

3.4 Youth have not been through as many demoralising
experiences as their elders, they have energy &
enthusiasm. A movement without youth is doomed to
decay. As an organisation which would refuse to segregate
youth into a 'junior' section, and which holds to
revolutionary and anti-authoritarian ideas, we must seek
ways of building up our profile among younger people.

3.5 We need to make growth a major priority. All
sympathisers should be contacted before any
demonstration we are attending, relevant campaign
meeting or public meeting. Asking sympathisers to join
the WSM will be discussed at least once a month at
branch meetings.

3.6 'Our Perspectives' and progress on the implementation
of the tasks we have set ourselves will be tabled for
discussion at each national meeting.
4. Short term perspectives

4.1 We have noted elsewhere that there are limitations to
what we ourselves can do in this situation - given our size
and our meagre resources. Moreover, from our point at
least, the central issue still revolves around working-class
militancy and organisation, all of which remain very weak
despite some promising signs.

4.2 We have to recognise that right now we are an
organisation of only a handful. We have to face that, at
this stage we are only a handful. Secondly we have to
recognise that our tradition has no historical existence in
Ireland, and this means that there are few others to rely on
but ourselves. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, we
know that these times are very hard for building what we
are building. Though we may be clear in our politics and
make the best effort to further them, even the most
moderate of successes will be few and far between for
some time.

4.3 If we should conclude anything from this it is that over
the next few years we will have to have low expectations
(though not unrealistically low ones) while applying
ourselves to what we are good at. We should concentrate
on our anarchism, with internal education and discussion
as well as availing of any public exposure that comes our
way. We should beef up our propaganda arms - seeking to
increase the frequency and circulation of Workers
Solidarity, with more pamphlets and an extensive
bookservice. Alongside this strong emphasis on our
anarchist ideas we stress the participation of WSM
members in everyday political work: trade union work,
campaigns and issues that are not just fronts for the
"revolutionary left". Areas where self-activity can be
generated and small victories won by people themselves
should be a priority - as should issues that bring us into
contact with new people who may be interested in our
ideas.

4.4 We have to constantly remind ourselves that at present
we are tiny and have no real base in any section of the
class. Then we can properly accept that we have been able
to explain and gain respect for anarchist ideas among a
small layer of trade union militants and other activists. We
have demonstrated there is an audience for our ideas. Our
work in campaigns and struggles have stood us in good
stead. We have established a foundation upon which we
can continue and build more support for anarchism.

4.5 [From Trade Unions paper] In the workplaces the
employers are on the offensive. They want to lower wage
costs, increase the authority of management, and weaken
grassroots trade union organisation in favour of the top
bureaucrats like the leadership of ICTU and SIPTU.

Since 1987 the majority of trade unionists have been
conned into supporting 'social partnership' But we must
not forget that one third of trade unionists have
consistently rejected these agreements. While most of
them have not done so because they have a principled
opposition to such 'partnership', it is an indication that
they know they are being ripped-off and want a return to a
more aggressive style of trade unionism.

Anarchists must work to generate wider solidarity for
workers in struggle, both through the official union
structures and outside them. Whilst we must not turn our
backs on the official structures such as branch
committees, trades councils, etc., we also recognise that
these bodies are becoming more distanced from the
members on the job and are presently incapable of
organising much in the way of solidarity action.

In these struggles it is particularly important that the
WSM argument is heard, for grassroots democracy and
direct action as opposed to the 'broad left' strategy of
capturing positions over which there is no effective rank &
file control.

The main tasks facing us right now are:

* working to maximise solidarity action with workers in
struggle.

* arguing against the concept of 'social partnership'.

* calling for international shop steward combine
committees in multinational firms. Such delegate
committees, not under the thumb of the top union
officials, can lead to a situation where workers refuse to be
played off against each other on a plant-by-plant basis.

4.6. Defeats will outnumber victories until workers assert
themselves at grassroots level in the unions and in all
areas of struggle. At the moment very few have the
confidence to do this. All over the world the ruling class
are on the offensive against the working class. They want
increased control and lower wage costs. This translates
into casualisation, part-time working, contracting out,
cutting taxes on profits, reducing welfare entitlements. In
short, they want a world where workers have few
expectations, and work on the bosses terms or not at all.
The partial upturn in the economy has given sections of
the working class increased confidence to go on the
offensive but this is still far from being a generalised
movement. We must take whatever opportunities arise for
rebuilding confidence but must also be careful not to
substitute our wishes for the real situation confronting us
on a daily basis

4.7 The main organisations on the far left are now,
ourselves, the SP and the SWP. While we are,
numerically, the smallest, we are separated by a large
chasm from the other two in terms of core politics. Over
the next period of activity we must do everything we can
to make these differences clear within the campaigns and
work we do. Our opposition to Trotskyism (and what it
stand for in terms of analysis and solutions), as well as our
principled objection to both the SWP's and SP's
electoralist strategy is something we should keep on the
agenda.

i) This should not be a recipe for sectarianism or not
working with these organisations in practice. On the
contrary, the real differences between anarchism and
Leninism that are likely to emerge and become important
in the future are far more likely to be based on day-to-day
"real issues" rather than issue of 'theory' - as was often in
the case in the past.

ii) This is a test for us in as much as it is for them. But in
order to emphasis our difference, and to make the choice
sharper, we must make our libertarian character clearer in
our publications and leaflets, as well as our practice.
Issues where our differences are easily described - around
standing for the Dail for example - are one thing, but we
must also look to draw out our differences on other issues
- for instance, the current campaigns on anti-racism is
already revealing tensions. In practice, within the WSM,
our libertarian politics needs to be sharper still in the next
period. If we are able to do this we stand to win more in
both the short and long term.

4.8 For the next while the organisation will have to rely on
individuals to a great degree if it is to survive. This is not a
good thing but it is our reality. We have to avoid burdening
anyone to a level they can't cope with. We have to keep
this in mind and guard against it - things have a habit of
running away with themselves leaving the whole
organisation over-committed. Also as libertarians we see
the potential danger to individuals and to the organisation
of building in a self-sacrificing and evangelical manner.
We ask that no member do more than he/she feels capable
of. The WSM should not be the be-all and end-all of
members lives. If such ideas were to gain a foothold within
the organisation it could be a recipe for authoritarianism.

4.9 At present we are primarily a propaganda organisation
for libertarian socialist/anarchist ideas. Though it is our
aim to change this by stepping up the involvement of the
WSM (as an organisation) in the day-to-day struggles of
our class, we recognise this will be a slow process.
Furthermore we recognise that the period ahead will be
hard for the organisation and not generally conducive to
this process. We should expect growth in numbers and
influence, but at the other side of this recession we may be
only slightly larger.

4.10 The real test of how much we have learnt from recent
events will be the extent to which the WSM puts into
practice its claim to be "different from all the rest". Our
policies are different, our methods are different.

4.11 Over the last few years we have achieved the initial
goals we set for ourselves. We have informed a small layer
of activists about anarchism, and gained their respect. We
have also given the WSM a more stable base as members
learned more about anarchism and its history, gained
more experience in struggles and began to put that
knowledge into practice in an organised manner. Our next
step is to move beyond the 'left' and make contact with
new layers of people. We have to recognise that there are
big difficulties facing us. With the collapse of the Stalinist
dictatorships, it was not only Stalinism that fell, for many
the very idea of an alternative - any alternative - to the
present system also fell. The 'old left' is collapsing. The
decline of authoritarian 'socialism' is a good thing but in
the short to medium term it will present us with a
problem. In the past social democracy sand Stalinism
threw up large movements from which the best militants
moved on to anarchism.

Today the task of interesting people in the very idea of an
alternative will fall to a much greater degree to people like
ourselves. This is a problem because, with our present
small numbers, there is a limit to how much we can
achieve in any given period. We are confident that support
for anarchism will grow but we are also aware of the
reality we face at present.

4.12 We must do all we can to spread knowledge of and
support for anarchism. This can never be downplayed in
importance. Our small size stops currently us being an
'agitational' organisation (i.e. bringing a few ideas to many
people as an introduction to our wider politics). We can,
however, bring many ideas to a few people - and that is
our primary task at this stage.

* Workers Solidarity will continue to be a paper whose
primary purpose is to bring our politics to people who have
have had little or no contact with the 'left'. As such it will
continue to carry features on anarchism, in-depth analysis
of strikes and campaigns, world anarchist news, "thinking
about anarchism", etc.

Workers Solidarity is our public voice. Its brief is to
explain anarchism, make it relevant to people's immediate
concerns, make suggestions for taking struggles forward,
let others know of examples of self-activity, analyse
campaigns. It is very important, a vital part of our activity.

* Workers Solidarity should continue to be sold at union
meetings, political meetings, protests and bookshops.
Each member should also try to develop personal contacts
who will buy Workers Solidarity regularly from them.
These contacts can also be offered pamphlets, invited to
public meetings and events, and encouraged to find out
more about anarchism.

* Red & Black Revolution is our magazine of debate
and discussion which takes up issues of interest to
anarchist-communists and others wishing for a more
detailed knowledge of our views. As well as providing
explanations of our views and of events in Ireland and
abroad, it will also serve as a forum for debate.

* The contents of Workers Solidarity and Red & Black
Revolution should continue to be discussed from time to
time at branch meetings. (as should the Internal Bulletin).

* We want to produce a wide range of pamphlets. These
are important in widening the interest and appeal of our
ideas. We should take up modern issues as well as
uncovering aspects of our history.

* While branch meetings are ordinarily every week, in
general we want to steer clear of the situation where
branch meetings become the main political activity of
members - they are the basic organisation of the WSM,
not its reason for existence.

* At least half of our branch meetings should be open to
sympathisers where it is felt these people are interested in
our anarchist politics

Updated July 2004

Note sections in [ ] are to be further discussed/amended at
the next WSM conference

================
The new position papers coming from the anarchist federation
Workers Solidarity Movements July 2004 conference are online
at http://struggle.ws/wsm
=========================


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