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(en) Impressions of the Liberty, Autonomy & Solidarity Conference, Wollongong, 25-26th August

From Jura Books <a-infos-@chaos.apana.org.au>
Date Sat, 27 Oct 2001 03:36:31 -0400 (EDT)

      A - I N F O S  N E W S  S E R V I C E

>From Rebel Worker, paper of the Anarcho-Syndicalist Network, Vol.20 No.4
(173) Oct.-Nov. 2001-10-06
Subs. $12 (Aus.) per year or $25 (Aus. )per year overseas air mail.
Postal Address PO Box 92 Broadway 2007 NSW Australia.
The Liberty, Autonomy and Solidarity Conference was held on Sat. 25th to
26th August at the University of Wollongong. It was organised by
Revolutionary Action, an autonomous marxist group associated with the Love
& Rage (L&R) groupings. 
The Revolutionary Action group is based in Wollongong and its surrounds and
is composed largely of student radicals inspired by the Anti-Globalist
protests and a small sprinkling of veteran unemployed movement militants
who were involved in WOW (Wollongong Out of Work Workers Union) in the
1980's. These militants were also previously members of the CPA (Communist
Party of Australia). The conference was attended by 80 or so people -
members of RA, L&R Groups from Sydney, Newcastle, and Canberra, Socialist
Alternative, the Anarcho-Syndicalist Network (ASN), Anarcho-Syndicalist
Federation (ASF) and others.  Like allied L &R groupings, RA has played a
prominent role in helping workers in industrial disputes, most
significantly the Joy Mining Machinery Lockout.
The conference was composed of a range of workshops on such topics as
anarcho-syndicalism, unemployment, Rebel Uni, Direct Action and Civil
Disobedience and plenary sessions on introductions, AWOL (Autonomous Web of
Liberation) and anti-CHOGM protest organising.
@HEAD - 2 = Anarcho-Syndicalism or Sect  building?
The presentation on anarcho-syndicalism by Alexia of the ASF was
disappointing. Rather than focusing on the complex problems of
anarcho-syndicalism as a workplace strategy for building a mass alternative
direct action labour movement oriented toward the workers control project
and the over throw of the capitalist mode of production,
anarcho-syndicalism was presented as a simplistic sect/party building
exercise. Alexia lavished quite a bit of attention on the formal structures
of her group  and its "potemkin unions". The tacky, papier mache character
of these "unions" was exposed by an ASN militant. He discussed the dubious
character of the Syndicalist Education Union "affiliated" with the ASF .
Although claiming to be a "union", the first two bulletins it has issued
have had no education industrial news/issues content and have consisted of
abstract anarchist propaganda. Alexia responded to this criticism by
stating she was not responsible for it and apparently not concerned about
this strange behaviour . This papier mache "union"seems to be mainly
composed of students and has few actual education wage workers as members.
Alexia went on to refer to the ASF organising in catering and taxi sectors.
Her group claimed to have helped workers at a tiny café in Melbourne to win
a small wage rise. However there has been no independent confirmation of
this happening. Whilst the individual who has claimed the alleged
microscopic victory has a reputation for truth "flexibility" as displayed
on the IWA-TALK  internet discussion list over the years.The issue must
also be raised  regarding the relevance of  focusing upon such small
economically peripheral workplaces of no strategic importance to building
mass syndicalist unions. How would small groups of workers organised in
anarcho-syndicalist unions in sectors without enormous industrial muscle
fare against employers and the state resort to using the ferocious penal
provisions of the Workplace Relations Act? Its provisions provide massive
fines for unions and individual workers who engage in "illegal industrial
action".  Such an emphasis seems highly dubious.
In Alexia's talk she failed to provide an historical overview of the
development of anarcho-syndicalism, in particular I.W.A. (International
Workers Association - a body linking up such groups in various countries)
sections.When the I.W.A. was first formed in the early 1920's it was
composed of mass unions with globally millions of  members. In contrast
today, the I.W.A. has some few thousand members globally and its sections
generally have little industrial presence. Certainly a discussion of the
reasons for this eclipse would be important in throwing light on possible
strategies to ensure the resurgence of anarcho-syndicalism as a mass global
labour movement. When confronted on this inadequacy by the ASN militant,
Alexia bizarrely referred to her lack of detailed knowledge of the I.W.A.'s
In her talk, Alexia admitted she had been unable to find much analysis from
an anarcho-syndicalist perspective  (Regular readers of RW would certainly
find much anarcho-syndicalist analysis in these pages and there are quite a
range of academic works focusing on anarcho-syndicalist history available
at libraries. Perhaps a more likely explanation for this lack of research
is the closed mindedness of sect inhabitants who see no need to read widely
outside the correct dogmatic usually ahistorical theological writings
authorised by sect gurus.) and her presentation certainly indicated a
thread bare knowledge of the historical background of anarcho-syndicalism.
Despite this fact she fervently announced like some intrepid youthful
evangelist  that anarcho-syndicalism seemed to be about engaging in sect
building antics apparently similar to the various Leninist groupings. In
particular, the developing of correct lines on all manner of issues under
the sun and dabbling in identity politics apparently to "recruit" for the
party and play membership "numbers" game charades.
Associated with this party building technique she referred to another
"affiliate" of the ASF in Melbourne, the Anarchist Cultural Association.
According to Alexia, this group is particularly composed of aboriginal
artists which practice anarcho-syndicalist principles. The ASN militant
argued that surely organising on the basis of "indigenous identity" is in
contradiction to the anarcho-syndicalist principle of uniting all workers
on the job in the fight against the boss regardless of their "identity",
ideology, religion, etc. A related issue cropped up on the issue of "work".
According to Alexia, membership of anarcho-syndicalist unions and it seems
ASF "papier mache" ones can include all workers not just "wage workers" -
those engaging in hobbies of various sorts, co-ops, domestic duties, etc.
According to this view, anarcho-syndicalism certainly moves from the
workers control/revolutionary project - (the collective mass seizure and
self management of the means of production and distribution by the direct
producers and their preparation for this task) to an existential exercise -
"organising" assorted groups as part of some silly sect building charade.
In defence of this party building, Alexia characterised the ASN militant's
views on anarcho-syndicalism as neglecting a "community" dimension. The ASN
militant refuted this slur by referring to the complex phases in the
development of a syndicalist labour movement. He provided the example of
the Barcelona Rent Strike of 1931 discussed in the book "For Anarchism" by
David Goodway, which showed that a crucial background to this mass rent
strike involving much of the working class in that city was the growth of a
mass syndicalist labour movement associated with the CNT (National
Confederation of Labour). The progress of this movement on the industrial
front had wide ramifications in other spheres such as the community -
raising morale and encouraging the adoption of direct action tactics and
decentralised organisation such as occurred on a massive scale in this rent
strike and providing support. So a long term effect of anarcho-syndicalist
activity which involves prioritising work in key industrial sectors is a
profound impact in other sectors inspiring direct action movements.
Andrew from L&R raised a quite bizarre notion held by some in the L&R
milieu regarding the importance of "domestic labour" to some revolutionary
strategy. Given the extreme atomisation of those involved in home duties
and their obvious lack of ability to paralyse key arteries of the
capitalist economy such as transport workers and inspire other workers to
take direct action and adopt syndicalist forms of organisation, any such
notion appears quite fantastic. In regard to workers control issues
discussed  in the workshop, Nick from RA welcomed the development and
deployment of new labour saving technologies which are supposed to
eliminate unpleasant jobs. The ASN militant criticised this naïve view,
given any such technology is only introduced on management's terms to
destroy workers' skills/jobs and often to impose massive speedups. These
amazing views presented by Andrew and Nick certainly seemed to point to a
lack of workplace experience.
@HEAD - 2 = Call Centre Workers          Organising
The work shop on Call Centres  presented by Alexia and Dave of RA was held
later in the afternoon. It featured several important debates. Whether call
centres were an industry, call centre workers organising issues and the
role of the new call centre paper "On Call".
Call centres as an example of the "new economy" like domestic work are an
object of fascination by many in the L&R milieu. Despite this sector's
objective peripheral role in the capitalist economy and the fact that call
centre workers are low skilled and can be easily replaced by employers .
Whilst, call centre work during  industrial action  in one company/site can
be easily transferred to other companies/sites to break the strike. It's
also a sector with a very low level of unionism.
Alexia argued that call centres constitute a new industry, as from her
observations, they can take on work for different industries. The ASN
militant argued that they are largely industry components - crisscrossing
different industries. There are designated call centres for all manner of
companies and Govt authorities/agencies. He argued that the implication of
being a new component of different industries was the need for workers at
call centres to link up and coordinate struggles within these industries
oriented toward the workers' control project. Such a vision is very much
part of anarcho-syndicalist unionism and in sharp contrast to existing
bureaucratic unions whose officials see no alternative to the capitalist
In regard to call centre organising, the speakers gave examples of informal
organising and on the job resistance. An important obstacle to this
activity and militant workers self organisation was the role of 5 labour
hire agencies in supplying workers to commercial call centres. Consequently
there are wide opportunities for blacklisting of militants by
employers/agencies. The high level of casualisation at call centres and the
associated employment insecurity of workers is a related organising
obstacle. Electronic surveillance of workers is obviously much more
intense, than in other workplaces. Given these significant obstacles and
dangers facing militant activity and grass roots action, this sector seems
unlikely to experience major organising and direct action break throughs
autonomously. However, the pursuit of long term work in more strategic
sectors to assist grass roots self organisation resulting in major
victories, would be critical in raising workers' morale and overcoming
organising obstacles in such sectors as call centres and inspiring waves of
direct action.
Quite a lively debate erupted over the role of the call centre paper "On
Call". Alexia spoke of the need to restrict contributions to the paper by
workers who favour membership of existing bureaucratic unions such as the
A.S.U. (Australian Services Union) and C.P.S.U. (Community & Public Sector
Union). As she was concerned that the hierarchies of these unions would use
the paper to recruit in this highly non unionised sector.
Nick of RA criticised this attitude. He argued that all different points of
view on the union issue should be welcomed. As through debate, the obvious
gross deficiencies of bureaucratic unionism could be exposed and
revolutionary unionism no doubt encouraged. The ASN militant fully agreed
with Nick's views, and argued that such a feature of free discussion/debate
was extremely valuable and reflected a crucial  process in future mass
anarcho-syndicalist unionism. In sharp contrast to the manipulation of
various forums - union meetings and journals which characterise existing
bureaucratic unionism.
@HEAD - 2 = An Unquenchable Thirst for Illusionary Spectacles
The session on Saturday evening focused on a proposal to form an Autonomous
Web of Liberation (AWOL). A sort of loose alliance/coalition of different
groups in NSW and in particular Sydney which adopt the
anarchist/libertarian label. An important focus of the alliance would be
organising around anti-Globalist protests such as the now postponed CHOGM
conference. The ASN militant criticised these protests as elitist
spectacles - a small group relative to the size of the working class
considering they are fighting the capitalist setup. When in fact direct
action should be taken by the overwhelming majority of the working class to
really fight capitalism. Whilst the protests which usually focus on
attempts to disrupt global capitalist meetings/ceremonies are in effect
symbolic actions against symbolic global capitalist events. The morale of
workers on the job are unlikely to be raised and the various strategies of
global capital continue to be implemented with vigour.Whilst the capitalist
setups have used the hysteria drummed up by their media about these
protests alleged violent character to make moves to create "strong"
states.Involving attacks on civil liberties, more aggressive and
coordinated policing, increased surveillance , etc.
Participation in these vacuous spectacles  and the winning of illusionary
victories by RA and L&R members seems to have encouraged an unhealthy
thirst for participation in further such spectacles and a disregard for
more mundane and long term assistance for on the job organising. Such
sustained often gruelling efforts could win real and important  victories
against the global capitalist offensive and perhaps turn the tide. An
obvious course of action would be the launching of a grass roots
manufacturing workers paper to assist workers militant self organisation
using the very valuable contacts L&R and RA groups have made through their
participation in various industrial disputes - Davids, Visy Board, Metrone,
Joy Mining and the UWS (University of Western Sydney) Occupation. Such a
project could link up with the effective work of the ASN in transport
industries in NSW. Certainly L&R's newsletter "Autonomy & Solidarity" seems
to be just another left subcultural paper and unable to play a role in
"concrete propaganda", which such a grass roots publication could play. 
@HEAD - 2 = Wollongong Out of Work Workers Union (WOW) 
On Sunday Morning at the workshop on unemployment, Nick of RA gave a very
interesting talk on the history of the unemployed movement in the 1980's in
Wollongong, particularly WOW. He located the emergence of WOW in the
context of the militant workers upsurge in the early 1980's against the
Fraser Liberal Federal Govt. and the employer offensive. An important peak
of this upsurge was the Kemira coal mine occupation and a militant
unemployed march from Wollongong to Sydney. Particularly interesting was
Nick's discussion of how the hierarchies of the unions and the ALP/CPA
(Communist Party of Australia) assisted the initial growth of WOW. Through
"nods and winks" this bureaucratic establishment particularly in the shape
of the South Coast Labour Council discouraged state action against WOW's
occupation of a house opposite the local Social Security office, which it
used as a head quarters. The house itself was owned by the owner of a
funeral parlour who for business reasons was unwillingly to ruffle the
feathers of the ALP/CPA establishment and pressure for the eviction of WOW  
However, following the election of the Federal Hawke ALP Govt. in 1983 and
its pursuit of a neo-liberal agenda associated with the "Accord" made with
the union hierarchy a determined campaign was commenced by the ALP/CPA and
union hierarchy to muzzle and crush WOW. WOW spurned an attempt by the
Hawke Govt.to purchase its loyalty with funding. However, other welfare
groups succumbed to  Hawke Govt. financial enticements, encouraging the
isolation of WOW.  Whilst  the "nods and winks" of the ALP and CPA party
and union bosses merged into prominent frowns encouraging state harassment
including violent attacks on WOW militants by the local police and ultra
right wing elements in the ALP. As a result of this war of attrition by
arms of the establishment, the WOW disintegrated and dissolved. 
During the discussion period, the ASN militant raised the question that
given the role of the union hierarchy in WOW's demise, why didn't WOW
militants look into linking up with rank and file opposition movements in
the unions to fight the bureaucracy.Nick made the interesting point that
WOW militants were in such a state of shock caused by the "stab in the
back" by the Leftist political and union establishment, that they were
unable to consider such a strategy. During this conference session the
"mirage of social centres" - the  abstract concept of "spaces" for anti-
capitalist organising, which many in the L&R milieu fruitlessly chase after
appeared fleetingly. The ASN militant pointed out that concrete local
conditions have to be taken into account regarding the formation of such
social centres. Without the initial support of the South Coast Labour
Council which restrained arms of the local state, WOW would have been
rapidly evicted from its choice squatted premises by fierce police action.
This is likely to be the fate of attempts at such social centre squats in
Sydney. Given the universal hostility in Sydney of councils and police
toward squatting particularly spurred on by the greed of landlords and real
estate agents  and the high prices of real estate and spiralling rents.
In conclusion, the conference revealed that many who attended the gathering
remain dazzled by the latest vacuous spectacles of the left sub culture -
the anti-globalist protests and the illusions of so called "modernity/new
economy " and "party/sect building". Hopefully the young comrades will take
advantage of constructive criticism and tackle the real key to countering
the forces of Global Captialism - the assisting of militant workers self
organisation on the job in strategic sectors oriented toward the workers
control project and the sustained  long term and non spectacular work it
will require.

Mark McGuire

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