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(en) NorthWest America, Unfinished Business #3 - Montreal's Workers Solidarity Network: Class Struggle Unionism

Date Wed, 19 Oct 2005 13:46:05 +0200 (IST)

What's needed is active participation by all workers and an understanding
that true labour power comes from there and not from the negotiations table.
P atrick: What is the goal of the Workers Solidarity Network?
Nicolas: We try to promote solidarity within the
labour movement. This is a broad statement but it is
applied in different forms like strike solidarity, direct
action case work and helping with union drives. We
want to prove to ourselves and workers in general
that it's possible to fight the bosses with or without an estab-
lished union. Fundamentally, what's needed is to make a list
of demands and grievances and act upon them collectively. This
can be done in a traditional union framework or in non-con-
ventional frameworks that some struggles require.
We want to popularise what we call "un syndicalisme de com-
bat", which translates to solidarity unionism or class-
struggle unionism in English. The basis of "le syndi-
calisme de combat" for us to establish tangible rank
n' file power before entering into a conflict with the
bosses. It is no use to strike when the struggle is not
led by the rank n' file, when it is completely controlled
by union leadership. What's needed is active partici-
pation by all workers and an understanding that true
labour power comes from there and not from the
negotiations table.
We don't pretend to be more important then we are.
And we don't want to take the place of existing
unions. Usually what we propose is double member-
ship, both within an established and legal union and
within the Workers Solidarity Network. We believe
trade unions and the current the labour movement
can be radicalized from within, so we don't see the
need to establish a more leftist/syndicalist union that
would out seed the business and reformist unions.
However, we do think it is important for rebel workers
and the non-unionized to have a specific point of
convergence in the movement, that 's why we
formed the Workers Solidarity Network!
Patrick: How are you organized?
Nicolas: Membership is very loose. All you have to
do is agree with our platform, respect our constitu-
tion, pay 10$ in annual dues and come out to actions
once in a while. Obviously some members attend
meetings more frequently and take up more coordi-
nating tasks, but this is not integrated into our formal
structure. The only positions we have in the network
our treasurer (who also keeps track of membership)
and external coordinator. Both of these positions are
unpaid. As we grow, it's looking as if more positions
and/or committees will be created, such as a legal
committee and a agit/prop committee, for example.
We hold general assemblies once a month. Every
member has an equal say in these meetings. Tasks
are mandated and these mandates are immediately
revocable if we feel the work isn't being done in a
proper fashion. It's pretty much basic direct democ-
racy, I guess.
Patrick: What type of actions do you take part in?
Nicolas: One of the things we do is strike solidarity. When strikes
and lockouts happen, we go out to the picket lines and support
the workers as an organized group. It's surprising how much
this basic practice is lacking in the labour movement. Usually
when strikers see us their reaction ranges from being pleasantly
surprised to all out astonishment.
Another thing we do is defend our members inter-
ests and rights in their workplaces. In these moments
we truly act as a union. One action that kick-started
the network was a mass visit to a boss who hadn't
paid the training hours of one of our members. 40
people visited him at his pizzeria at supper time on a
Friday night demanding the unpaid wages. It took
about 10 seconds to get the money! What a great
feeling of satisfaction that provided...especially since
this worker is an undocumented immigrant who did-
n't trust legal and official processes to settle his
grievance, we were his only recourse.
Finally, we help with union drives. Well, we are cur-
rently taking part in our first union drive, to be more
precise. Usually, pro-union workers get identified
very fast by management during union drives, that
leads to isolation and harassment. We are thinking
we can help out with scouting at the workplace and
with house visits. This will be done in collaboration
with an established and legal union.
Patrick: Why is an organization like the Workers
Solidarity Network needed?
Nicolas: I think I've brushed this before, but again,
mainly to radicalize the labour movement and defend
the interests and rights of non-unionized workers.
Patrick: What suggestions do you have for workers
who want to start a similar organization?
Nicolas: Be patient. The Workers Solidarity Network
came out of a long process of supporting strikes and
discussions on how unions can become more dem-
ocratic and combative and how, we as working peo-
ple, can actually start winning some fights against
the bosses after a few decades of defeats. At the
same, set specific goals. When we first founded the
network in February 2005 (before that discussions
were had amongst smaller groups of labour
activists), we set the goals of adopting a platform and
a constitution, producing a pocket-sized pamphlet on
basic rights, studying the labour code and publicly
launching the network on Mayday. All of these goals
were achieved. Now we are focussing on specific
campaigns. Throughout the summer we supported
the strike at the Omni Hotel in Montreal, that ended
in a victory for the workers against a boss who's the
4th richest man in Texas and a personal friend of
George W. Bush. As I said, we are helping with a
union drive. In late October 2005, we will hold our
first Orientation Conference. We have been invited
by a leftist student union to give talks in schools
about basic rights.
Anything is possible if you organize right and you
are committed to what you are doing. Thank you for
the interview. Good luck with Firebrand and your
activities in Portland!
Nicolas, Workers Solidarity Network member
"A fighting union!"
Workers Solidarity Network
rst.wsn@gmail.com, 514-859-9092
Patrick Star is a rank and file member of the United
Brotherhood of Carpenters, Local 247. He is also a
member of the Firebrand Collective, a member col-
lective of NAF.

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