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(en) Ireland, Workers Solidarity Movement* Autumn 2005 conference - The Trade Unions

Date Mon, 14 Nov 2005 08:46:02 +0200


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 greatly increased 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, and all 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 parents 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.

(j) For all unions to take a positive anti-racist stance and to be to
the forefront in challenging racist ideas or actions.

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. 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.

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.

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.
* encouraging the recruitment of low-paid and migrant workers
into trade unions and, where possible, assisting them in standing up
for their rights

12.3

12.3.1 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.]

12.3.2 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.

12.3.3 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.

12.3.4 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.

12.4.1 In recent years the Independent Workers Union (IWU) has
been formed. It openly declares itself as being anti-social partnership
and is actively working to recruit and organise low-paid workers. We
welcome this development and will do anything we can to assist
them in this work.

12.4.2 We encourage all WSM members to become either full or
associate members of the Independent Workers Union with a view
to working within and alongside the IWU to further the objectives of
our Trade Union position paper

12.5 We encourage and support initiatives such as the Get Up Stand
Up Campaign which aim to supply workers with information about
their rights and encourage them to become organised."

Amended Oct 2005

Note sections in [ ] are to be further discussed/amended at the next
WSM conference
==========================
* WSM is an anarchist federation
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