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(en) Britain, How do you build a movement? - SolFed
Sat, 08 Dec 2012 11:59:55 +0200
An article from the Occupied Times' 'how do you build a movement?' series, outlining an
anarcho-syndicalist strategy. ---- Bankers’ bonuses, MPs’ expenses and police-media
corruption grab headlines, but these are only the most visible of the injustices that the
existing political and economic system is built upon. Every day is filled with smaller
injustices. These can be economic: pay cuts, unpaid overtime, benefits cuts or rent hikes;
or they can be about power: bullying bosses, stress, sexual harassment or police racism.
---- These injustices aren’t a defect in the system; they are a sign that it’s functioning
normally. They’ve certainly been intensified by the economic crisis. For example, last
year in the UK a record 5.26 million people worked unpaid overtime averaging almost a
whole extra day each week. But, they also predate the crisis.
It has always been in the interests of bosses to get as much work for as little pay as
possible. So they freeze or cut wages, increase the pace and intensity of work or the
amount of unpaid overtime, or both. Workers’ interests are the exact opposite: to earn
more for less, to become less stressed and have more free time. It is in the interests of
landlords to spend the minimum on maintenance and to withhold deposits, while still
charging the highest possible rents. Tenants’ interests are the exact opposite: paying as
little as possible for the best housing. It is always in the interests of the state to cut
back benefits payments while channelling handouts to their party donors at firms like A4E.
Workfare, making people work for their benefits, is just the latest way of making our
lives dependent on work, while forcing wages down. Yet again, claimants’ interests are the
exact opposite: receiving enough to live on whilst jumping through the fewest hoops,
rejecting the distinction between deserving and undeserving poor.
Despite the frequency of these everyday injustices, they rarely lead to spontaneous
resistance. Often the injustices are experienced alone, and alone, bosses hold more power
than workers, landlords have more power than tenants, the job centre has more power than
claimants and so on. Too often, these grievances lead to demoralisation rather than to
resistance. To turn isolated injustices into collective action requires organisation.
As these injustices are part of a capitalist system, to be effective this organisation
needs to be opposed to capitalism’s ‘proper channels’. So, instead of employment
tribunals, closed-door union negotiations, legal action, lobbying or running for
parliament, it is direct action – controlled and taken by those affected – which is the
means to fight systemic injustice.
When Laura was owed over £700 in unpaid wages by a London pub, she organised. Her family
and friends bombarded the phone and email of the business, demanding payment. The landlord
paid up on the eve of a threatened peak-time picket. When Ruth, Jess and Charlotte had
their £1,200 deposit stolen, similar direct action tactics won it back. When workers on
the London Underground wanted to resist changes to working conditions, they organised a
‘piss strike’ – one after another, workers went off to the toilet, leading to very little
work being done. Management caved in within two days. When cleaners at Brunel University
wanted written contracts, they held a mass meeting and refused to work until a manager
promised them contracts on camera. A phone blockade of the same manager prevented an
attempt to backtrack, and the cleaners got their contracts.
Direct action doesn’t rely on anyone else. It doesn’t require official representatives
from unions, or political parties, or legal experts and the goodwill of the judiciary. It
helps build the power and confidence of those who use it. It can enable workers to defend
themselves or improve their conditions. Tenants who have stood up to their landlords are
no longer isolated and powerless.
On a practical level, building this kind of movement means banding together with our
workmates, housemates, classmates and fellow welfare claimants, and focusing on real
everyday issues. We want a revolutionary movement, but we won’t achieve it by trying to
convince everyone to be a revolutionary. Instead, we can engage other members of the
working class on the small everyday grievances that we all share. From these defensive
struggles, we can begin to take the initiative. And from a position of strength,
discussion about a different system – one without bosses, landlords and politicians – is
no longer idle talk. Rather, direct action is the means to win as much as possible right
now, while building collective power and opening space to think about more fundamental
The Solidarity Federation certainly doesn’t think it has all the answers. But we do think
nothing helps build a movement like concrete victories. A solid movement begins with
getting organised and standing up to the injustices we experience in our everyday lives.
To be successful, the organisation has to be revolutionary. It must aim to put an end to
the current unjust system and will reject methods which imitate or collaborate with the
system. It will avoid full-time officials, political representatives and backroom deals.
We don’t think this is rocket science. It is a practical anarchism relevant to anyone with
a boss, a landlord or power held over them by leaders.
It might seem like these small, everyday victories are a long way from the overthrow of
the system and its replacement with something better, and in isolation they are. But you
need only look to the student movement in Québec to see how radical union organisation can
explode from everyday grievances to mass struggle. A powerful working class movement will
be much more than just a revolutionary union, but such a union can be a catalyst for
everyday struggles, and can link them to the need for wider change. Through direct action
we can build the power of ordinary people to improve our lives in the here and now, while
preparing the ground for social transformation to put an end to systemic injustice altogether.
The Solidarity Federation is a revolutionary union initiative: a working class
organisation which seeks the abolition of capitalism and the state. In their place members
of SolFed want a society based on workers’ self-management, solidarity, mutual aid and
libertarian communism. This article originally appeared in the Occupied Times of London.
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