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(en) Organise #61 - Anarchist Federation (Ireland) and Anarcho-Syndicalist Federation Statement on Trade Unionism and Industrial Organisation

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Tue, 21 Oct 2003 08:54:18 +0200 (CEST)

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The Role of Trade Unions
The Anarcho-Syndicalist Federation (ASF) and Anarchist
Federation (AF), as organisations of class-struggle anarchists,
agree that trade unions cannot be used, in the long term, as
vehicles of revolutionary activity in Ireland.
Here, as elsewhere, trade unions are top-down organisations of
bureaucrats and workers where those at the top (the bureaucrats
and trade union elite) stifle the hopes of those at the bottom (the
workers) and impede their natural desire for an improvement in
working conditions. This elite is nothing but a management board of
full-time, permanent officials motivated by self-interest alone, with
even less interest in rocking the industrial boat. Trade union
officialdom will not, for example, involve workers in long-term
strike action that would interrupt the flow of precious union dues.
In short, trade unions are not controlled by their members; it is they
who control. The fact that trade unions like SIPTU have scrapped
notions of one-man, one vote, and will not even countenance
changes in the ways they are organised, is testament to the
stranglehold union bureaucracies have over workers.

As capitalism is an exploitative system where workers produce the
wealth, but do not receive it, trade unions, by promoting collective
bargaining, are also promoting and legitimising exploitation. In
recent times, the ‘social partnership’ entered into by trade
union leaders and bosses has made this even more self-evident,
while Public Private Partnerships (PPP) and Private Finance
Initiatives (PFI) are paving the way for private investment in the
public sector. In the meantime, trade unions are overseeing the run
down of our public services which will be ultimately paid for by an
increase in our rates and by the introduction of water charges in
the north.

However, the AF and ASF do not believe that its members should
not join trade unions. While we realise that they will never be able
to step onto the revolutionary stage, we also acknowledge the
benefits to be gained by union membership in the short term. Trade
unions are places where workers can gather together, and where
progressive ideas can be discussed. Trade unions can also offer
better Health and Safety conditions, legal protection, and support
over minor quibbles with management.

Shop-Stewards and Union Reps

The ASF and AF accept that in some cases - for example in
militant workplaces - it may be worthwhile for its members to
become shop-stewards or union reps. (Having said this, in periods
of industrial calm, there is nothing to bar our members becoming
shop-stewards if they feel that by doing so they can make a
contribution to the struggle against the boss class.) An AF or ASF
member who becomes a shop-steward will do so as a delegate, and
not as a mouthpiece for management. The role of the
shop-steward/union rep will be seen not as a means to advance the
interests of our organisations specifically, but as an opportunity to
advance anarchist ideas generally. However, the ASF and AF
realise that becoming a shop-steward/union rep is a lesser tactic in
the ongoing struggle against capital, and would argue more for
autonomous working class organisation (see below).


The AF and ASF are supportive of rank-and-file initiatives, while
remaining aware of how these initiatives are often used as Leninist
fronts whose sole object is to force through a particular party line.
Rank-and-filism can provide us with the experience and confidence
we need to become better militants and can help us in our fight
against bosses. Ultimately though, it will never be able, by itself, to
break the trade unions’ tie to so-called Labour parties, old or
new, to radicalise enough workers to affect any major change to
how trade unions function now or will function in the future. We
agree that trade unions cannot be reformed, or democratised from
within. Rank-and-filism is a strategy that can prove useful, but only
if used in conjunction with other strategies that will move workers
away from the confines of ‘trade union consciousness’

Workplace Organising

The ASF and AF believe that workers must begin the process of
thinking of themselves not as mute subscribers to decisions made
behind their backs, and over which they have no control, but as
individuals with the confidence and self-belief to organise beyond
the manacled grip of trade unions, which, until now, have served to
channel their energies down the road to nowhere.

To this end, the AF and ASF advocate the establishment of
workplace and community groups that will act as hotbeds of
militancy in times of increased struggle on the shop-floor (pushing
ideas of resistance and direct action in the form of go-slows,
sabotage, wildcat strikes…) while maintaining and strengthening
links with the community outside the workplace during quieter
periods. We believe these groups ultimately will federate both at
local/regional and eventually at national level, and, in the
workplace, across sectors of skilled and non-skilled labour. They
will form a network of resistance which will involve as many
people as possible: both unionised and non-unionised labour, the
unemployed, single parents etc… In short, an organisation which
will provide a method of autonomous working class activity where
our class will decide for itself the means at its own disposal to
overthrow capitalism.

An example of this type of workers’ self-activity can be seen
in the work of ‘McDonalds Workers Resistance’ (MWR)
who*:"emerged as a determined response to the idiocy of our
working lives… an angry rebellion against boredom, exploitation,
poverty and discipline, … a rebellion against the idiocy of
McDonalds and capitalism."Remove the word ‘McDonald’
with the name of the company you work for, and you have a fair
idea of what we mean.


The working class in Ireland today are as downtrodden as ever
before. Casualisation, a run down health service, a service sector
on its knees to capital, harassment of unemployed and employed
alike, pervasive privatisation, mass redundancies, inflation, squalid
housing, sectarianism, rampant racism… are the yoke we bear in
the system we need to change. The AF and ASF don’t have all
the answers, but we think our ideas give us a base from which to
start to do our bit to affect change, and work for the society we all
of us deserve.

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