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(en) NorthEaast America, NEFAC* Workplace Position Paper

Date Tue, 13 Dec 2005 18:58:27 +0200


This is a new publication, authorized today, coincidentally, after
ratification by our membership and translation into French and English.
INTRODUCTION
As anarchist-communists, we want a radical reorganization of
the workplace. We want workplaces that are run by directly democratic
federated workers' and community-based councils. We want the highest
decision-making body to be general assemblies of workers held on the shop
floor and in the communities where they live. We want to abolish the wage
system, end the alienation and division of labor, and usher in a new
society of libertarian communism.

To achieve this society, we engage in a struggle against the
bosses; a struggle between the working and the employing classes; a
revolutionary class struggle that will only end when the class system
itself is destroyed and everyone controls and shares in the wealth that we
as working people produce.

We believe that the struggle toward libertarian communism must
be brought about by the whole of the working class, and see the
workplace and labor unions as an essential point of agitation and
struggle. Labor unions represent the largest organized grouping of the
working class. For this reason we feel that anarchist
participation within the unions is essential. Anarchists must be
involved in workplace struggles, both because we are both workers and
because we are revolutionaries. As we fight the bosses with our
fellow workers, we also fight the mediation of our struggle.

We anarchist-communists must organize within the ranks of labor
unions, retaining our specific praxis. We become active in this
struggle as both advocates of social revolution and as fellow workers in a
collective battle against exploitation. We choose participation over
authority and solidarity over isolation. It is through the
process of collective struggle that people become radicalized and more
open to anarchist ideas. To win the battle of ideas, we fight for direct
action, mutual aid, and direct democracy in our unions and more
importantly in the workers' movement as a whole--in short,
revolutionary anarchist praxis.

CLASS STRUGGLE

At every stage in the historical development of society -– from
ancient times through feudalism, to present-day capitalism -- there has
been a division between those who produce goods and services, and the
small minority that expropriate. This division has led to the
development and irreconcilable interests of the two primary social and
economic classes, resulting in an ongoing class struggle between them.

Class struggle is by no means confined to workplace. Class
conflict occurs everyday in neighborhood-based battles for decent
housing, the fight for welfare, the battles for access to quality
education, the struggle against prisons and police brutality, in the arena
of popular culture, and especially against racism, sexism, and other
oppressions that stratify and divide the working class. It is not simply
the fight for better wages and working conditions, but a daily struggle
for the direction of society.

However, as anarchist-communists, we have a particular
strategic interest in workplace struggles due to the ability to
directly challenge the material interests of the capitalist class.
Capitalism is, above all, a social relation; but it is also an
economic system with real material weaknesses at the various points of
production, communication, and distribution. Our greatest strength as
workers is in the collective refusal of our labor. An organized
working class is a force that has the potential to shut this system down
and re-create society in our own interests.

The workers who produce the wealth under capitalism differ from
all previously oppressed classes. Firstly, we now have the productive
capacity to create enough wealth to provide the basic necessities
(food, shelter, clothing, education, health care) for everyone and still
have plenty to spare for science, culture, luxuries, etc.

Secondly, and more importantly, our everyday life as workers prepares us
to eventually self-manage our society.

UNION BUREAUCRACY AND REFORMISM

Although we realize there are some exceptions, the reality of
the labor movement today in North America is one of compromise, and often
collaboration, with capitalist exploitation. Unions serve as a mediator
between the working class and the bosses, often playing the role of
business organizations that negotiate the sale of their
members labor power to employers (and, in exchange, they offer workers
material benefits: job security, health care, better wages). They seek a
fairer form of exploitation under capitalism, rather than an end to
exploitation itself.

As the labor movement has failed over the years to mount a
fundamental challenge to the power of the bosses, the unions became
increasingly top-down in their structure and integrated into the
system. The officials who run these organizations work to contain
workers' struggles within the framework of their longstanding
relationship with employers and politicians.

While there are variations amongst the unions (some of which
are more democratic and militant than others), most are dominated by a
hierarchy of paid officials and staff, who control bargaining with
employers, the handling of grievances, and tend to have a social
service relationship to the rank-and-file (with whom they remain
unaccountable to). This bureaucratic stranglehold, along with years of
regulatory labor legislation, has led to unions often becoming
roadblocks to serious working class power in North America, rather than
fulfilling their historic role as effective vehicles for class struggle.

It is important to understand how this bureaucratic leadership
emerged. Successive waves of union organizing, often involving
militant tactics such as wildcat strikes and occupations pressed a
tactical retreat on the bosses and the capitalist state, leading to the
extension of new rights to workers' organizations. In place of open class
warfare, a process of limited and uneven concession
granting was established. This truce regulated and compartmentalized
workplace struggles to keep them below the level of serious
disruption. A new layer of union functionary emerged to broker and
executes this deal. These union executives needed to placate
membership with regulated contract gains while simultaneously ensuring
labor force stability and an environment suited to accumulation for the
bosses. While limited outbursts were permitted, union leaders were obliged
to police the deal and maintain order in the ranks. The
bureaucracy developed centralized structures and methods of control and
direction that fit its role and function.

Beyond bureaucracy and internal hierarchies, most unions that
are officially recognized by the state are unable to act outside of
existing labor laws, and often limited in their ability to take
effective action against employers. This means that they can support only
the most moderate action, and they are typically unwilling to risk even
this. Local unions that pursue a more independent, militant stance against
employers are likely to run up against roadblocks of officials to
effective action. In the worst cases when AFL-CIO or CLC affiliated locals
are deemed too militant, national or international unions use their power
to impose a dictatorship called a trusteeship, tossing out their elected
officers and seizing control of the local with appointees of the
bureaucrats.

Anarchist workplace militants must become revolutionary
opponents of the union bureaucracy, refuse the terms of compromise with
the bosses, and directly challenge those who seek to enforce it. It is
necessary to build a rank-and-file movement which understands how this
bureaucratic hold has entrenched itself, and which can
actually work to break both the union bureaucrats and the bosses' hold
over workers' struggles.

As the existing unions are not suited to overthrow the
capitalist class (or, often times, even capable of taking effective action
against employers) a workers' movement that can transform
society needs to be built independently of the existing union
hierarchies, both inside and outside of the union bodies. As workers move
towards more militant action and more widespread solidarity,
self-organization becomes a more realistic possibility.

Independent rank-and-file tendencies within existing unions,
coupled with workplace resistance groups, solidarity networks (flying
squads, workers' centers, student-labor action groups, etc.), and,
eventually, workplace assemblies and coordinating councils, provide a
glimpse at the kind of self-managed workers movement needed to not only
effectively challenge the employers, but also develop the unity and
revolutionary class consciousness needed to overthrow the
capitalist social order. These are the areas where NEFAC seeks to be
actively involved in the workplace.

DIVISIONS WITHIN LABOR

We recognize the exclusion that many workers face within
capitalism due to certain forms of discrimination (such as racism and
gender discrimination). These forms of divisions prop up capitalist
isolation tactics between sectors of the workforce, as well as
reinforce reactionary attitudes between various sectors of the working class.

We must recognize the vast divisions in the world of labor
between people of different language, "race" or ethnic origin, which fuel
racist, xenophobic and reactionary attitudes amongst workers. We must
struggle against these divisions, by acting autonomously and
building internationalist and anti-racist alliances. Through class
organizing in the workplace, workers can develop strategies that break
down racist and xenophobic divisions inside as well as outside of the
workplace, demonstrating that racism is a social construction that serves
to maintain ruling class power (divide to rule). By making an
internationalist and anti-racist class struggle possible, we live a social
alternative enabling worker's from different back ground to meet and learn
from each others.

We must defend undocumented immigrant workers from attacks by
capitalist exploitation of their "legal status". We must defeat racist and
xenophobic attitudes amongst sectors of our class, by building solidarity
between rank-and-file workers of "legal" and "illegal"
status. Our most powerful argument against these racist attitudes is by
organizing for common goals, so that capitalists can't take
advantage of immigrant worker status to push the standard of wages and
conditions down for all workers. By organizing defense of immigrant
workers within the workplace we expose the relationship between
capitalist organization of national boundaries as a relationship that
serves the interests of the capitalist class, and not for selected
sections of the "legal" workforce within artificial geographic
boundaries. This activity also weakens the statist control of national and
ethnic distinctions.

We must recognize the specific oppression of women under
both capitalism and patriarchy. A long time before industrialization - and
long after that – the place assigned to women was one of the
"queen of the home", a place pointed out as their first and natural
vocation. When the massive participation of women in the workforce
occurred, opposition came out from all sides, from religious groups to the
unions, saying that female work was against the natural order of things.
But since society could not afford to develop itself without the work of
women, essential to the development of capitalism and
above all to the survival of working class families, we saw a great range
of laws orienting the work of women towards jobs fitting better with their
"nature". This has caused the creation of large female job ghettos in
which the professional qualification of women was not
recognized since it was "natural". If the work of women was not
recognized as the fruit of diverse learning and special aptitudes, but
rather as being part of their innate qualities, it was not worth a
particular remuneration. In this way women's' jobs were, and still are
today, paid much less and not valorized. The capitalist reality of the
"double day" of work – social reproduction labor (such as housekeeping and
childcare) in addition to this undervalued wage labor – forces women to
stay home in a private sphere and contributes to their
isolation. We must therefore fight against the economic and social
inequalities that women live in society and in their workplace by
struggling against the wage discrimination towards women and the low union
rate of jobs worked by women, as well as their precarity and bad working
conditions. The solidarity of the workers' movement must be extended to
all workers, no matter if their labor is recognized,
waged, and legal or not. We also must support and defend autonomous
women's organizing around their material conditions and militantly defend
all the gains made by our class, including those that provide advancement
for women.

We don't believe that by simply abolishing capitalism, that
racist and patriarchal attitudes in the working class will be
destroyed. Class struggle is a struggle against all forms of
oppression; therefore the class system must be brought down by a
cross-gender and inter-racial mass workers' revolution. By organizing
against these forms of discrimination inside the workplace we connect the
dots between capitalist exploitation and social oppression, how they are
linked and how we can draw these struggles together into one united class
struggle for the liberation of all workers. Through
rank-and-file action we must organize against these divisions by
building campaigns and workers' organizations that are anti-racist,
pro-immigrant, and anti-sexist. By agitating and acting in defense of
these excluded sectors of our class in the workplace, by supporting and
encouraging the autonomous organizing of all oppressed groups in all areas
of society, and supporting leadership and activity within these struggles,
we participate in creating class-based,
internationalist, feminist and anti-racist organizing strategies that are
capable or developing into a more advanced class struggle
movement.

RANK-AND-FILE AUTONOMY

If society is a vast interlocking network of cooperative labor
then those networks of cooperation provide a good starting point, if only
a starting point, towards throwing off the bonds of coercion,
authoritarianism, and exploitation. It is in these relations of
cooperative labor, which encompasses millions of daily acts, that one can
find the real basis for social life. Without these networks,
often unrecognized and unpaid, society would collapse. We believe that
for workers' struggles to move towards anarchist-communism, that they must
provide within them the social basis for the re-organization of production
into a libertarian communist economy. This social basis necessitates that
workers' struggles be cooperatively run on the shop floor, while expanding
and generalizing not only to other workplaces, but also outside the
workplace to the community that the workplace is located in.

Sometimes this struggle formalizes itself into groups of
workers that act outside and in opposition to not only the exploiting
class, but also the union bureaucracy. Some names that these
formations have taken in the past are workers' committees, flying
squads, resistance groups, action committees, etc. Other times, this is
expressed through unofficial spontaneous collective action, such
sit-down-strikes, occupations, slows downs, sabotage, and wildcat
strikes utilizing informal networks that exist between workers. What
matters is not the name or even the specific organizational form they
take, but rather the way that the unmediated class struggle of these
workers' formations starts the transformation of the organization of
production.

COMMUNITY-LABOR ALLIANCES

This brings us to the importance of building active links
between the grassroots popular struggles in the neighborhoods and the
labor struggles taking place inside them. We call this the
community-labor alliance. Community-labor alliances are best built by a
mutual reinforcement of ongoing struggles in the communities and
workplaces. It is for this reason that NEFAC advocates workers' and
people's organizations actively support each other, build solidarity, and
end the artificial division between the workplace and community struggles.

ALTERNATIVE INSTITUTIONS

The labor movement once put a great deal of energy into
building more permanent forms of alternative institutions. An
expanding variety of mutual aid functions were provided through
workers' organizations in the early days of labor. Long before the
government monopolized social services, many workers' organizations
created a network of cooperative institutions of all kinds: schools,
daycare, summer camps for children and adults, homes for the aged, health
and cultural center, insurance plans, technical education,
housing, credit associations, etc. While we recognize that, in the past,
working people have won significant victories that have forced the
government to provide these services; we actively fight for
self-managed social services that are controlled directly by the
workers themselves.

While on their own such institutions can and are absorbed into
the capitalist system (and do not constitute a strategy for
revolutionary change), we take a position in favor of creating
workers' owned and run services that operate, as best they can under
capitalism, on the basis of the need for the entire working class with the
participation of the communities that benefit from the services. We
believe that such institutions and programs open up space for
experimentation of a limited form of self-management under capitalism.

WORKERS CENTERS

Today one expression of this need for alternative workers'
institutions, as well as the previously mentioned community-labor
alliance, is seen in the development of workers' centers. Workers' centers
provide a location and organizational support for campaigns in defense of
precarious workers such as immigrant workers, workers in small shops, and
non-unionized industries. NEFAC takes a position in support of workers
centers and encourages participation and
utilization of them as part of our extra-union strategy.

GRASSROOTS SYNDICALISM AND INDUSTRIAL ORGANIZING

We support industrial organizing over organizing by trade or
craft. Industrial organizing brings together all workers in a
workplace into a common union organization. Trade unionism - which allows
each location, profession, or sector to be represented by
different unions, weakens class identification and solidarity. With the
aim of creating a workers' movement on a class basis, NEFAC
supports the goal of eventually building grassroots syndicalism, which
would incorporate all workers regardless of skill, trade, industry, or
even current employment.

THE GENERAL STRIKE

A central part of our program is the call for the general
strike. It serves as a bridge between demands for reforms and the
ultimate goal of revolution. The old method of each union fighting for its
own gains, striking one at a time against a particular boss, is of limited
use. The capitalists help each other against the unions.
Companies have grown in size, through mergers and expansion, on a
national and international scale. A multinational company uses the profits
of one part of its business empire to make up for losses due to strikes in
another part. The bosses have their own "union", namely the national
state. Through the state, they have outlawed the most effective methods of
striking, such as mass picketing, sit-down
strikes (occupation of work sites), and cross-union strikes (sympathy
strikes). They have given the courts the rights to limit strikes, and
some workers are legally forbidden from striking at all.

We think the answer is to increase solidarity among unions, as
well as among unions and the community. As many workers as possible should
be prepared to strike together. Most useful would be for a
large number of workers in an area to strike at once, effectively
shutting down production in the whole area. The area might be a city, a
country, multiple countries or global. Such general strikes would be very
difficult to break.

Rather than just walking out of the factories, offices, and
other work sites, the workers should occupy them. This would make it
harder for the capitalists to bring in scabs or to assault the
strikers (since such assaults could destroy their property). Locking out
the bosses, the workers could decide to restart the workplaces, to produce
goods and services on the basis of the needs of the community.

There have been general strikes in many countries at various
times—in the Americas, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia. Most of these
strikes were for limited gains. But a general strike poses the possibility
of revolution, especially if it is over several cities or even nationwide.
To have the workers running a city or region, even for a while, to have
workers councils instead of the state, to have the workers patrolling the
street instead of police, to have work
sites producing for the needs of the workers--these suggest a
different form of society. They ask the question, ""Why not get rid of the
capitalists and the state?"

Right now the workers have suffered many defeats and only a few
victories. They do not trust in their power. More than all the radical
rhetoric, a successful general strike would show in practice that we have
the power to change the world.

REVOLUTION

Any popular movement for working class power must be prepared
to defend itself. The working class already has one source of power; it
has the ability to shut down the economy and to start it back up on
another basis. This is not enough to resist a persistent reign of
physical terror by the state. Working people must be able to resist with
weapons in hand. Workers' defense squads must grow from defense of pickets
from scabs and goons to popular militias. Armed defense must be combined
with a political appeal to the ranks of the armed forces sent against the
workers. The ranks of the armed forces
consist of the working class and can be reached. They are more likely to
do so if they feel that the workers are prepared to fight to the end,
until they win (it is no light matter to defy military orders and soldiers
will not do so unless they feel they will get away with it). The more
prepared the working class is for serious self defense, the less violence
there is likely to be.

Violent revolutions in the past have resulted in new rulers.
We, however, are building a movement for the self-rule of the working
class, where the armed people are democratically organized and the economy
is a communist one based on the maxim: "From each according to ability to
each according to need". We wish to smash the state, to dismantle
capitalism and all authoritarian institutions, and create a lasting
freedom of libertarian communism.

We want a social revolution, literally a "turning-over", so
that those on the bottom of society overturn their masters and manage
themselves. If society is to survive, the workers must replace
capitalism with a federation of self-managed industries and
communities with production based on needs, not profits.

Under capitalism, workers are a component of producing an
ever-accumulating surplus of value that is stolen from our labor. In an
anarchist-communist society, production will be organized on the basis of
need where there is no surplus of value. This
anarchist-communist production can only be realized by the cooperation in
production that takes place in the community as a whole. There can be no
isolated anarchist-communist workplace; the reorganization of production
by its nature requires the elimination of division between the workplace
and the communities in which we live.

(Adopted at eleventh federation congress, November 5-6, 2005,
Sherbrooke, Quebec)
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