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(en) Ireland, new position paper of Workers Solidarity Movements* July 2004 conference - The Trade Unions

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Thu, 19 Aug 2004 11:45:15 +0200 (CEST)


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1. WHO CAN CHANGE SOCIETY
1.1 Anarchists know that "the history of all previously existing societies
has been the history of class struggle". At every stage in the development
of society - from ancient times through feudalism to the present day -
there has been an oppressed class whose labour has created the wealth of
society, and a ruling class which controlled that wealth. At almost every
stage the oppressed have not accepted their lot without fighting back.
There were the slave revolts of Greece and Rome, the peasant risings of
the middle ages, the revolutions of the 1600s and 1700s.

1.2 But all these struggles ended with the old parasitic rulers being
replaced with a different gang of parasitic rulers. The failure of the
oppressed classes to keep control of the revolutions they fought in can be
explained by these main factors: (a) the generally low level of wealth in
society, (b) the fact that the everyday life of these people did not prepare
them to run society.

The majority were illiterate peasants who had no idea what things were
like outside their own locality. Their everyday life divided them from each
other. Each peasant had to worry about his own plot of land, and hoped
to enlarge it. Each craftsman had to worry about his own business, and
hoped to enlarge it. To varying degrees each peasant and craftsman was
in competition with his fellows, not united with them. He couldn't think
in terms of class.

1.3 The workers who create the wealth under capitalism differ from all
previously oppressed classes. Firstly, they create enough wealth to feed
and clothe the world and still have plenty to spare for science, culture,
luxuries and so on. Secondly, and more importantly, their everyday life
prepares them to take over the running of society. Under capitalism we
are brought together in large workplaces, into towns and cities.
Capitalism makes us co-operate everyday at work. Each person has to do
their bit so that the person at the next stage of production can do theirs.
In the services it is the same, from the office to the hospital, workers
have to co-operate with each other in order to get their jobs done. This
means that the modern working class can be a force capable, not only of
rebelling against the existing set-up, but of taking over and recreating
society in its own interests - and not as in the past merely help a different
section of the ruling class in its battles against the more backward
sections of that class.

1.4 Why then don't workers use their numbers, their collective power and
take over? Mainly because we are told that we are not able to do just that.
It is a message hammered into us, from school to the newspapers to the
television. We are being constantly told that workers can only follow
orders and that is the natural order of things.

1.5 But there is one point, in particular, at which workers no longer feel
powerless and at which they see in a much clearer way the reality of class
rule. That is when they use their collective power that runs the factories,
offices, schools, transport, etc. - to stop them. They can get a glimpse of
the potential of their own power.
2 THE NATURE OF THE TRADE UNION MOVEMENT

2.1 From their early beginnings back in the 1600s one thing is very clear
- for a worker to join a trade union means having to recognise, to some
degree, that he or she has different interests from the boss. There is no
way to explain the survival of the unions other than the reality that there
are different class interests, and workers have understood that to promote
their own interests they have to organise on class lines. No amount of
conservatism, bureaucracy or backwardness within the unions can
obliterate this essential fact. In recent years the nature of work has, for
many people, changed considerably with the growth of contract work,
working from home etc. Nevertheless, by joining a union people
recognise a class interest (us v. them). While this may be different from a
class consciousness (which implies a recognition of collective interests,
not just an individual against the bosses), the dynamic of belonging to a
collective organisation leads to the creation of some level of basic class
consciousness.

2.2 Trade unions are not revolutionary organisations. They were formed
to defend and improve the lot of workers under capitalism. Trade union
struggle is an absolute necessity. In the course of these struggles workers
begin to see their potential power, they can be radicalised and can be
brought into the revolutionary movement. At times there will be low
levels of struggle - whether due to a lack of confidence or to the
temporary dominance of 'national interest'/'social partnership' ideas - but
the contradiction between bosses' interests and workers' interests will
inevitably lead to a return to higher levels of struggle and grassroots
organisation.

2.3 After all, what is anarchism? When we get down to basics, it is
workers collectively running a free society. Instead of taking orders from
the boss and serving his/her mad rush for profit at any cost, it is about
working together for the common good. This doesn't mean that strikers
set out with clear anarchist goals in mind. They don't. But collective
action is the only way to win a strike - so the logic of the workers'
position: collective action in production, collective action in struggle;
takes us in an anarchist direction. And once in struggle peoples' ideas
can change. They gain confidence, a sense of their ability to take control
of their own lives. This is why many workers who go on strike with faith
in the "impartiality" of the police or with sexist ideas (to give but two
examples) can find these ideas challenged by their experience in
struggle. That is why we in the WSM get involved in workers' struggles,
though it is not the only reason - we also act from a position of solidarity
with other members of our class. It is in struggle that large numbers of
people can be won to anarchist politics. As our forerunners in the First
International said "the emancipation of the working class can only be
brought about by the working class themselves".

2.4 Central to our politics is the position that the working class will lead
the fight for anarchism. It is only the self-activity of masses of workers
that is capable of mounting an effective challenge to the bosses and their
state. The trade union movement is the most important mass movement
the working class has built and no matter how progressive or reactionary
the attitudes of its members, no matter how conservative they can
become, it does not alter the fact that they are the most important mass
organisations of the working class. For the WSM, as anarchists, activity
within them is an extremely important ongoing activity.
3 THE BUREAUCRACY

3.1 The unions are dominated by a bureaucracy, a collection of (usually
unelected) full-time officials with too much power and undue influence.
They are not responsible to the membership except in the most formal
way, not in any real sense. They may take the side of their members but
the point is that they do not have to. While it may be possible to hold
them to account (through motions of censure etc.), they are quite clearly
not accountable, they cannot be recalled or removed. Neither can they be
forced to act on the instructions of the membership, taking their orders
instead from the union executive. They often earn much more than those
they represent, sit alongside bosses and the government on
commissions, the boards of semi-state companies and other
government-appointed committees. . In short they enjoy a lifestyle quite
different than that of the people they are supposed to be working for.
Most of the newer officials have never even worked in an ordinary job.

They see their union work as a career. More than a few of them change
sides and take jobs with the employers' organisations. Their career is that
of an arbitrator, a fixer, a conciliator, a negotiator.

3.2 What is important to them is proving their skills as smart negotiators,
not pulling out all the stops to win their members' demands. They have
narrow sectional interests, they only look after their own patch regardless
of the general interests of workers. These people rarely lead or initiate
strikes. Instead they will have you running back and forth to the Labour
Relations Commission, Labour Court, Rights Commissioners, the
Employer-Labour Conference and every other talking shop they can find.
They will negotiate "until the cows come home", and it is all aimed at
finding a "reasonable" solution. They see striking as very much a last
resort, and condemn - without hesitation - unofficial action (i.e. action
that has not been sanctioned by them).

3.3 These people do not usually lead strikes but sometimes will, as when
employers are refusing to negotiate or the negotiation procedures are
being threatened. Most of the time, however, they will go to almost any
length in order to cobble together a deal...any deal, rather than opt for
industrial action.

3.4 These people are not nasty individuals. They behave as they do
because they have too much power and are unaccountable, in any real
way, to their members. Power corrupts, no matter who you are. This
behaviour is inevitable, no matter how radical or left-wing they are at the
beginning, their role sucks them into the business of conciliation.
Furthermore they have to be able to control their members - which
usually means stopping them fighting the boss - if they are to have
anything to bargain with at the negotiation table. This may sound odd but
the point is that the union official has to sell the employer labour
discipline and freedom from unofficial strikes as part of its side of the
bargain.

3.5 It is self-evident that the more power, initiative and control that lies
with the bureaucracy - the less it will lie with the rank & file membership
on the shop-floor.

3.6 As a whole, the bureaucracy swings between the position of mediator
and that of open defender of the status quo. But as a grouping they can
not go over completely to defending the bosses' interests; to some degree
they have to respond to their members' demands because they are
working in workers' organisations. This is not to imply that all - or even
most - trade union officials would necessarily go over to defending the
bosses' interests if they could, but the nature of the position inevitably
means that they cannot become totally responsive to their members'
demands as that would see the end of their role, power and careers.
There are individual exceptions to this but, as a collective grouping, this
remains the case.

3.7 This bureaucracy, not just because of the individuals in it but because
of its objective position in relation to the membership, has to be opposed
to workers' self-activity on most occasions. It is, by its nature,
authoritarian.
4 ONE STEP FORWARD, ONE STEP BACKWARDS

4.1 The response of many on the left is that we have to elect and/or
appoint 'better' officials. They see the problem primarily in terms of the
individuals who hold the posts. This stems from their conception of
"socialism" as some sort of giant state enterprise bureaucracy where
things are done "for the workers". Workers' self-activity occupies no
leading role in their scheme of things, just as real workers' control is not
part of their plan for a "socialist" society. Their ideas are rooted in an
authoritarian view of the world.

4.2 A problem which, from time to time, has manifested itself in other
countries is the view that workers should leave the unions and destroy
them; that no permanent organisation of workers under capitalism can
avoid becoming totally integrated into the state and a tool in the hands of
the bosses. The people who promote this nonsense claim that the unions
are holding workers back from making a revolution ...now! This analysis
is little more than wishful thinking that hopes to avoid the difficult
struggle to win the mass of workers to revolutionary politics. It is of little
use to an organisation that seeks to involve itself in the actual struggles of
our class, warts and all. It also ignores the day to day need of workers to
collectively defend themselves.

4.3 A third position we come across is that of breaking away and forming
new unions. The effect of this is to take the minority of combative and
radical workers out of the old union, leaving it totally at the mercy of the
bureaucracy whose antics had provoked the split. We urge those workers
to remain and fight within the union, to win over the membership - not to
leave them without a combative focus.

Breakaway unions offer no alternative in the long run as the problems
that led to their formation will develop in the new union. Ireland's labour
history is littered with examples of this. The ITGWU and FWUI (which
merged to form SIPTU), and the National Bus and Railworkers Union,
to name but a few of the main unions, were all born as "left" breakaways.

While we refuse to advocate breakaways, except possibly in the most
exceptional cases, we ultimately stand for the right of workers to make
the decision themselves.
5 SYNDICALISM

5.1 Syndicalism, and especially anarcho-syndicalism, has been an
important current in many countries - particularly in Southern Europe
and Latin America. Its basic ideas revolve around organising all workers
into the "one big union", keeping control in the hands of the rank & file,
and opposing all attempts to create a bureaucracy of unaccountable
full-time officials. Unlike other unions their belief is that the union can be
used not only to win reforms from the bosses but also to overthrow the
capitalist system. They hold that most workers are not revolutionaries
because the structure of their unions is such that it takes the initiative
away from the rank & file. Their alternative is to organise all workers into
the "one big union" in preparation for the revolutionary general strike.
They see the biggest problem in the structure of the existing unions
rather than in the ideas that tie workers to authoritarian, capitalist views
of the world.

5.2 Syndicalism in itself does not create a revolutionary political
organisation. It creates industrial unions. It is a-political, arguing all that
is necessary to make the revolution is for the workers to seize the
factories and the land. After that it believes that the state and all the other
institutions of the ruling class will come toppling down. They do not
accept that the working class must take political power. For them all
power has to be immediately abolished on day one of the revolution.

5.3 Because syndicalist organisation is the union, it organises all workers
regardless of their politics. Historically many workers have joined, not
because they were anarchists, but because the syndicalist union was the
most militant and got the best results. Because of this tendencies always
appeared that were reformist.

5.4 Syndicalists are quite correct to emphasise the centrality of organising
workers in the workplace. Critics who reject syndicalism on the grounds
that allegedly it cannot organise those outside the workplace are wrong.
Taking the example of anarcho-syndicalism in Spain it is clear that they
could and did organise throughout the entire working class as was
evidenced by the Iberian Federation of Libertarian Youth, the 'Mujeras
Libres' (Free Women), and the neighbourhood organisations.

5.5 The limits of syndicalism is rooted in its view of why workers are tied
to capitalism, and its view of what is necessary to make the revolution.
Spain in 1936/7 represented the highest point in anarcho-syndicalist
organisation and achievement. Because of their a-politicism they were
unable to develop a programme for workers' power, to wage a political
battle against other currents in the workers' movement (such as
reformism and Stalinism), and to give a lead to the entire class by
fighting for complete workers' power.

Instead they got sucked into support for the Popular Front government,
which in turn led to their silence and complicity when the Republican
state moved against the collectives and militias. The minority in the
CNT, organised around the Friends of Durruti, was expelled when they
issued a proclamation calling for the workers to take absolute power (i.e.
that they should refuse to share power with the bosses or the
authoritarian parties).

5.6 The CNT believed that when the workers took over the means of
production and distribution this would lead to "the liquidation of the
bourgeois state which would die of asphyxiation". History teaches us
different. In a situation of dual power it is very necessary to smash the
state.

5.7 In contrast to this the Friends of Durruti were clear that "to beat
Franco we need to crush the bourgeoisie and its Stalinist and Socialist
allies. The capitalist state must be destroyed totally and there must be
installed workers' power depending on rank & file committees.
A-political anarchism has failed". The political confusion of the CNT
leadership was such that they attacked the idea of the workers siezing
power as "evil" and leading to an "anarchist dictatorship".

5.8 The syndicalist movement, organised in the International Workers
Association and outside it, refuses to admit the CNT was wrong to
"postpone" the revolution and enter the government. They attempt to
explain away this whole episode as being due to "exceptional
circumstances" that "will not occur again". Because they refuse to admit
that a mistake of historic proportions was made, they are doomed to
repeat it (should they get a chance).

5.9 We recognise that the syndicalist unions, where they still exist, are
far more progressive than any other union. But the anarchist-communist
organisation will organise within its ranks and everywhere else workers
are organised. We will not liquidate our specific politics and organisation
into the a-politicism of syndicalism.

5.10 We recognise that the union structures we argue for are essentially
the same as those that syndicalists argue for. In the context of union
structures syndicalism thus provides both historical and current
examples that demonstrate to fellow workers that such methods of
organisation not only work but bring results
6 PARTY POLITICS AND THE UNIONS

6.1 In Ireland, as in many other countries, there are formal links between
social-democratic (in some countries nationalist or liberal) Parties and
the unions. The largest general unions in Ireland are affiliated to the Irish
Labour Party. Far from providing a "political voice" or "weapon" for
workers it helps to disarm them politically. In the unions; where we have
real, if unused, strength; the bureaucrats can argue against taking up
issues outside the workplace on the grounds that "that is what the Labour
Party is there for". Political affiliation attempts to put the political
struggles of workers under the control of professional 'representative'
politicians. It aids passivity.

6.2 In Ireland the Labour Party does not even enjoy the electoral support
of most trade unionists. Properly speaking it is not the Party of the
unions - it is the Party of the union bureaucracy, and increasingly seeks
to weaken even that connection

6.3 We support the concept of a political levy but urge the unions to
disaffiliate from the Labour Party. Instead we seek to mobilise the
strength of the unions to take direct action on political issues. The first
step towards this is the raising of political issues at section and branch
level through arguing for sponsorship of specific demonstrations, for the
passing of resolutions on issues such as combating racism and giving
support to other workers in struggle. All such resolutions should be
linked to some action, no matter how minimal it may be at the beginning.
7 WSM ACTIVITY IN THE UNIONS

7.1 Our perspectives for activity within the unions are centred on
encouraging workers themselves to take up the fight against the bosses,
state interference and the TU bureaucracy. Our most important area of
activity is on the shopfloor.

7.2 We encourage 100% union membership and all WSM members are
members of their appropriate trade union. When members take up
employment in non-union jobs, they are expected to join an appropriate
trade union. However, depending on the circumstances, it may be
necessary for some considerable time for this person to remain a secret/
"sleeper" member. The process of unionisation of non-union workplaces
is extremely varied and complex. In some cases an immediate organising
drive can unionise a workplace, in others it is only when a specific issue
arises that workers begin to become receptive to unionisation, in yet
others it will be the product of slow and undramatic work aimed at
convincing people in ones and twos. The WSM members on a particular
job are best placed to decide what strategy is most useful in their
workplace."

7.3 No WSM member will accept any unelected position that entails
having power over the membership.

7.4 Members elected as shop stewards consider their position as that of a
delegate rather than that of a 'representative' who can act over the heads
of the members.

7.5 When going forward for elective positions we make it clear that we
are not accepting the structure as it now exists. We will fight for more
accountability, mandation, information for members, etc.

7.6 The following points serve as guidelines for our day-to-day activity
and link it to our goal of anarchism, because of the method that lies
behind them.

7.6.1 WAGES

(a) Opposition to centralised wage bargaining. Defence of free
collective bargaining.

(b) Encouragement of joint claims and action across union and craft
divides.

(c) For cash claims, in preference to percentage ones, on the basic
with no strings attached.

(d) For opposition to "social partnership", which not only holds down
wages but also reduces membership participation in union affairs and
promotes the lie that there can be an equal partnership between workers
and their bosses & rulers

(e) For a national minimum wage set as a % of the national average
industrial wage.

7.6.2 Unemployment

(a) Because the economic cycle of capitalism sees each boom followed
by a slump, mass unemployment is a recurring threat. It cannot be
eradicated while capitalism exists but we can fight back against the
bossesâ desire to make us pay for their crisis.

(b) Opposition to all job losses through strikes and occupations backed
up by the greatest possible solidarity action throughout the TU
movement.

(c) That all closures be met by the demand for continued employment
with no reduction in pay, or worsening of conditions or union rights. We
are not concerned whether this is done by bringing in a new owner or by
nationalisation.

(d) We point out that nationalisation is not a cure-all, and that state
ownership brings us not one inch nearer to socialism.

(e) Opposition to all productivity deals that involve job losses.

(f) Opposition to 'natural wastage' of jobs, forced early retirement.

(g) Full membership rights in the unions for unemployed workers, for
unemployed sections within the branches.

(h) Where possible, organisations of the unemployed should be set up.
These should keep in close contact with those still in work by helping on
picket lines and building links with the unions. They should also aim for
closer links with bona-fide tenants' and residents' associations. While
unemployed organisations which concentrate on service provision fulfil a
useful role, what is needed is a fighting unemployed movement which
will take up the political fight for jobs, decent social welfare payments
etc.

(i) For trade union support for the demands of the unemployed, e.g.
providing facilities, refusing to cut off services such as electricity and gas,
etc.

(j) For putting pressure on the state to inject money into industry that
is both labour intensive and socially useful. For a programme of public
works paying union rates. For a crash programme of house-building
using direct labour employed by the local authorities.

(k) For unionisation of people on schemes, for TU rates of pay.

(l) We reject the idea that unemployed people should be thankful for
any 'job' they are offered. We call for decent jobs - ones that are well paid
and socially useful.

7.6.3 STATE INTERFERENCE

(a) Opposition to all laws restricting the right to strike, and all laws
which seek to interfere in the internal affairs of the unions. Opposition to
"union bashing". For the scrapping of the anti-union provisions of the
Industrial Relations Act.

(b) We are opposed to schemes for "worker directors" and "workers
participation". They are a confidence trick to deny the reality of class rule
by the bosses, as are employee share schemes. Workers' interests are
opposed to the interests of the bosses.

(c) When possible, we encourage workers not to use the Labour Court
and other supposedly "impartial" institutions. Instead we call for
solidarity action.

(d) We argue for the withdrawal of the ICTU representatives from the
Employer-Labour Conference, the N.I. Police Authority, state and
semi-state boards. We are against participation in all bodies that try to
destroy the independance of the unions by involving them in "social
partnership".

(e) We are against the "sweetheart deals" negotiated by some unions
and the Industrial Development Board/Enterprise Ireland which grant
negotiation rights to a single union without the agreement of the
workforce. We stand for the right of workers to join the union of their
choice.

7.6.4 EQUALITY

(a) For positive encouragement of women, younger members and
immigrants to participate in the unions, and to take lay office.

(b) We are against the concept of "reserved places" on union
committees for women. It is undemocratic and tokenistic. The real
alternative for the unions to seriously take up women's issues.

(c) For equal rights and benefits for all members regardless of sex, age
or whether they are full-time or part-time workers.

(d) For six months paid maternity/paternity leave.

(e) Opposition to the use of maternity leave as a disentitlement to pay
related benefit.

(f) In order to enable women to attend union meetings we call for
childcare provision at the expense of the union.

(g) To defend women's right to work we call for childcare provision at
the expense of the bosses, and under the supervision of the workers
using it.

(h) For 'flexitime' arrangements where workers with children desire it.

(i) To commit the unions to support a woman's right to control her
own fertility, including the right to avail of abortion, and to give moral
and material support to campaigns seeking to achieve this end.

7.6.5 UNION DEMOCRACY

(a) We fight to change the role of the full-time officials - not to change
the individuals who occupy the positions. Their decision-making powers
have to be removed and returned to the rank & file membership. They
should be elected and paid no more than the average wage of the people
they represent. They should only serve for a fixed period of no more than
five years after which they return to ordinary work. The unions will have
to win the demand for jobs to be kept open in order for this to be realistic.

(b) All officials to be subject to mandation and recall.

(c) We are totally opposed to the ICTU "two tier" picket.

(d) For regular branch and workplace meetings, in working hours
where this is possible.

(e) For direct elections to all committees, conference delegations and
national officerships, subject to mandation and recall.

(f) All strikes to be automatically made official as long as they do not
contradict trade union principles.

(g) Support for all disputes, official or unofficial, in pursuit of higher
wages, better conditions, jobs, trade union principles or any issue in the
interest of the class.

(h) For the publication of minutes of all union meetings.

(i) Where revolutionaries can gain enough support to win election to
national officerships in large unions, or indeed small ones, this support
should not be used to merely elect a candidate. Instead it should be used
to fundamentally change the structure of the union in such a way as to
return power to the membership and turn the officers into administrators
and resource people rather than decision makers.

8 RANK AND FILE MOVEMENT

8.1 The rank and file movement is that movement within the unions of
militant workers who are prepared to fight independently of the
bureaucracy, and against it when necessary.

8.2 The form it has taken in Ireland has been that of combative shop
steward committees, inter-factory committees, and groupings of activists
within particular unions and/or trades.

8.3 Such a movement arises when workers go into struggle and are
attacked not only by the boss but also by their own union officials. It
requires the confidence to fight on both these fronts, and to be
generalised to the degree where it can appeal for solidarity action over the
heads of the bureaucrats.

8.4 In the case of building around a programme or list of demands, it
should be broad enough to attract workers who are militant but would not
see themselves as having a particular political outlook. The basis for
building is (as a general guide): 1. for union democracy, 2. for equality in
the workplace and in the union, 3. against wage restraint, 4. for a fight for
jobs, 5. support for strikes.

8.5 Within the rank & file movement we fight for our politics, we never
hide them. But we do not want to take over, the movement should be
independent of any one political organisation. While we seek to convince
as many workers as possible of the need for anarchism, we do not do this
in an opportunist manner at the expense of the growth of the movement.
It should never be made a front belonging to the revolutionary
organisation. Its role is to provide a focus for workers moving to the left
and wanting to fight. Point 8.6 "Rank-and-file movements usually come
about as a result of struggle - when workers see that the union leadership
is an impediment to that struggle. They cannot be willed into existence.
The establishment of solidarity networks can in the meantime draw
people together on a limited agenda where issues of democracy,
strategies for the future etc. can be discussed. We seek to build solidarity
networks where possible, as the first step towards the building of
rank-and-file movements
9 AID FOR WORKERS IN DISPUTE

9.1 In line with our recognition of the need for solidarity the WSM,
within the bounds of its resources, offers to aid workers in dispute. In this
we do not seek to "provide a service" but to encourage self-activity
among the strikers. We push them to pressurise the union into providing
material help. Only when this is not forthcoming do we provide leaflets,
etc. We will put our organisation at their disposal in terms of help with
fundraising, collections, publicity, contacts for blacking and other
solidarity actions - but we do it WITH the strikers, not FOR them.

9.2 Our most immediate aim in any strike is to win a victory. But it is not
our sole aim. We are political militants and not just good trade unionists,
we argue our politics. We seek to win support for our politics, we seek to
win members to our organisation.

9.3 Where groups of workers on strike seek the establishment of a strike
support group we will do all we can, given our limited resources, to assist
the establishment and success of such a support group. However, within
the strike support group, we will insist that the strikers themselves
maintain control and we will work to ensure that the strikers' confidence
in their ability to act for themselves is increased. We will argue strongly
against the support group becoming a substitute for activity within the
union concerned - activity which should place demands on the union
structures to fight with and for the strikers. We will work to ensure that
the support group does not do things "for" the strikers but instead gives
advice and assistance in terms of helping the strikers to fight for
themselves.

Where possible, at the conclusion to a strike we will encourage the
strikers to compile a short article/pamphlet detailing their experiences.
Such articles/pamphlets would serve as a "memory bank" and would
prove useful to future strikers who find themselves fighting the same
battles.
10 THE CLOSED SHOP

10.1 When we say we are in favour of 100% trade unionism we mean just
that. A fighting union will gain the support of the vast majority of
workers. But there will be that small minority, from whose ranks hardline
parasites and scabs appear, who will refuse to join. As they automatically
benefit from every claim the union wins they should not be allowed to opt
out of the struggle for it. Where the majority of the workforce decide they
want a closed shop agreement we support them. However we do not
support single union agreements that are forced on workers from above.
The important thing is that everyone is in a bona-fide union, it is less
important which union they join.
11 UNIONS AND REVOLUTION

11.1 Trade unions will not become revolutionary organisations, they were
never set up to be that. However from within trade union struggle will
arise the embryo of the workers' councils of the future. The early
beginnings of this are seen wherever workers create their own rank & file
organisation (without mediation or "all-knowing" leaders) to pursue their
class interests.

11.2 Towards this end we push as hard as we can for independence from
the control of the bureaucracy.

11.3 The role of the WSM within these struggles is to unify the different
sectional struggles into an awareness of the overall struggle between the
classes; to act as a "collective memory" for the movement (i.e. able to
explain the lessons of past struggles); to take on the politics of reformism
and Leninism within the movement; to explain and popularise the
anarchist-communist idea. Essentially our role is that of a "leadership of
ideas" - as opposed to a leadership of elitist individuals.
12 SHORT TERM PERSPECTIVES

12.1 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' deals. In the years since 1987 the rank and
file campaigns against partnership have become weaker and weaker until
with 'Sustaining Progress' it was almost insignificant. Today such
campaigns are organised amongst such a narrow layer and at such short
notice that the kindest reading of then is that they are run, not to win
anything or even build a movement, but simply to 'do something'. A
more cynical reading would suggest they exist simply to get some new
union contacts for the main political party behind them.

Nevertheless a significant portion of workers vote against each deal,
indicating that they are at the very least unhappy with the terms offered
This opposition has lacked a focus and the various attempts made by left
union activists to provide one over the years have failed. Success either
requires a radical and sustained new strategy or that the employers forced
by a future crisis of capitalism go on a major offensive. The employers
may also become over confident and offer a deal so worthless that a
majority reject it, this would most likely lead to a new deal with better
conditions but even so this would be the best opportunity there has been
for years to mobilise opposition to partnership

12.2 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.

12.3 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.

12.4

12.4.1 The long years of social partnership and the low level of struggle
have devastated rank and file organisation in most unions. Branch
meetings and AGM's are badly attended and rank and file positions from
unions reps to branch committee are often given to whoever is willing to
do the work rather than contested. In the private sector union
membership has drastically declined with many new companies being
effectively non-union. [CSO figures from 2003 showed that only 20% of
private sector workers are in unions, and only 10% of all union members
are under 25.]

12.4.2 This means that very few of the new generation of political
activists have any experience of union activity. Encouraging involvement
in unions is no longer a simple question of encouraging people to attend
meetings or stand for union rep. Done in isolation both of these
experiences can be demoralising. And most young workers now find
themselves in non-unionised workplaces. Advocating joining a union to
this layer can seem like a pointless strategy when all they hear of is
unions that are toothless and long drawn out recognition disputes that are
seldom seriously fought by the union side and which end in defeat or
Pyrrhic victories.

12.4.3 It does not help that in the few sectors where there is real
militancy activists observe the union leaders repeatedly marching the
rank and file to the top of the hill only to lead them down again as a last
minute compromise is worked out. Large scale disputes when they occur
are often limited to a day of action or boycotting a single area of work.
Real solidarity is seldom even sought from other workers and disputes
end in muddied compromise rather than victory.

12.4.4 This is a depressing overview, one which most of the left avoids
facing up to. We know that there are also positive stories of struggle out
there but unfortunately they are not typical. Nevertheless our task is to do
what we can towards building a fighting union movement under the
control of the rank and file. To that end:

a) We will urge the formation of networks which bring together activist
workers with the aim of discussing, formulating and implementing
strategies that will help them to win struggles in their workplaces, create
unions where there are none and win real rank and file control of union
branches where this is possible. They will seek to counteract the isolation
individual activists often face when they get involved in workplace
struggles.

b) We will seek to encourage a process of frank evaluation and discussion
amongst existing left union activists both as to what the real situation is
now and what sort of strategies are realistic in the short term.

c) We will circulate and publish any positive news of workplace and
union struggles in Ireland.

d) Where we can obtain a speaker we will seek to tour libertarian
militants from rank and file unions in other countries to talk not only
about their struggles but also about the alternative way those unions are
organised.

Amended 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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