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(en) NEA (Northeastern Anarchist) #8 Anarchist Workers On Tour: Looking Back On The 'Anarchy At Work' Tour by Nic, Groupe anarchiste Bete Noire (NEFAC-Montreal)

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Sun, 18 Jan 2004 20:24:07 +0100 (CET)

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In May 2003, NEFAC organized a speaking tour called
'Anarchy at Work' featuring members of our organization
who have had diverse experiences in their workplaces and
unions. The Canadian portion[1] of the tour made eight stops
in ten days through Quebec and Ontario. In all, over 250
people attended the talks; they were young and old, workers
(unionized and non-unionized alike), the unemployed, and students.
> Anarchist Workers on Tour: Looking Back on the 'Anarchy at Work' Speaking Tour
In May 2003, NEFAC organized a speaking tour called
'Anarchy at Work' featuring members of our organization
who have had diverse experiences in their workplaces and
unions. The Canadian portion[1] of the tour made eight stops
in ten days through Quebec and Ontario. In all, over 250
people attended the talks; they were young and old, workers
(unionized and non-unionized alike), the unemployed, and

The 'Anarchy at Work' tour proved three things that we
expected, or at least we hoped, were taking shape in the
North American class politics. First, that anarchism, or
rather the specific pro-organizational, class-struggle
tendency within anarchism, is gaining ground within the
various social movements of our class as a viable
revolutionary alternative. Secondly, that older unionized
workers amongst the rank and file feel betrayed by the union
leadership, but haven't given up on the union itself and are
looking for ways to organize independently, instead of
abandoning labor activism as a whole. And thirdly, the arrival
of a new generation of workers to mostly non-unionized
workplaces that lack the working standards (pay,
conditions) that their fathers and mothers knew before them,
has provoked a small but feisty movement for unionization
amongst younger workers.

Anarchism Becoming Relevant Again

Much energy and effort was put into the talks in order to
dispel stereotypical assumptions about what anarchists are
(be it the mad bomber or the primitivist living in a cave)
which are broadly passed on in society, as we knew that
many in our audiences may not be so familiar with what
anarchism really is. Surprisingly, this wasn't as necessary as
we thought.

Most people attending were aware of the constructive work
of class struggle anarchists in the past years and laughed at
references to the 19th century mad bombers and today's
primitivists. When you think of it, this is not so far-fetched --
be it through the anti-globalization movement, the movement
for social housing in Canada (in which anarchists, amongst
others, have played a key role in the past years, bringing in
direct action tactics, mostly through squatting) and even
through the labor movement in Ontario with participation in
rank and file "flying squads" and in Quebec with strike
solidarity -- anarchists have carved themselves out a niche
in the social struggles of the working class, being active
participants in the struggles while propagating the libertarian
alternative of social revolution.

Obviously, many in attendance were anarchist sympathizers
and others were politicized on the left, but it is a refreshing
start for anarchism to become relevant again even though it
doesn't yet have mass appeal amongst the working class.

Unionized and Ready to Fight

During the tour we met a fairly large number of older
unionized workers, mostly from public sectors organized
within CUPE[2] in Ontario. These workers were participants
in the 1996 general strike and days of action against the
Harris government, and were amongst the ranks of the flying
squads who were seen everywhere in Ontario in those years,
on pickets, in actions, and at large mobilizations. They also
were part of the sector of the labor movement that strongly
supported OCAP[3], a radical anti-poverty group in Ontario.
This support translated to a better bonding between
community-based struggles and labor struggles. But most of
this came to an abrupt end in the fall of 2001.

No, it wasn't September 11th that stopped them, but rather
union leadership withdrawing their support for OCAP's
economic shutdown campaign set for October 2001. Union
leadership just couldn't accept actual economic disruption,
like the planned shutdown of the commercial highways
linking Windsor and Detroit, because in order to keep their
six figure salaries they are inclined to want to maintain
capitalist rule rather than challenge it. Simply if production
plants stop running and the unionized membership stops
paying it's dues, the bureaucrats will then have a tough time
finding the money to pay themselves.

The flying squads still played an important role in the days of
October 2001, but were strongly reprimanded for flying union
colors and logos on their flags, as they weren't legitimate
enough to use them, according to the union leadership.
Following this was a move by the leadership to gain more
control over the flying squads, going all the way to having
paid officials participate in them even though they were
meant to be autonomous bodies of the rank and file. Today,
the autonomous flying squads are, sadly, almost dead.

Obviously, the workers we met in Ontario who lived and
struggled through this feel betrayed by their union
leadership, and rightly so. They are now looking for ways to
keep the leadership out of the flying squads and out of what
are supposed to be movements of the rank and file. A
cross-union, base network of rank and file workers may be
the way forward for them. This is one of the proposals that
were on the table during the Anarchy at Worker tour, and more than 100
people signed up for it. Older unionists, having known a life
of struggle against their bosses and against their union
leadership, were particularly interested in this network
which would serve as a means of communications between
themselves and with the unorganized, but also as a web of
solidarity able to bounce from one struggle to the next
regardless of union affiliation. If mainstream labor union
leadership has betrayed its membership and eroded their
faith in unionism, that base of workers is nonetheless still
aware that a fight has to be fought against the boss class
and that the union remains the best vehicle to fight it. But it
is now more than ever essential to get the bureaucrats out of
the driverÃ's seat...

Young and Looking for a Union

In contrast to the older unionists in the audiences, there was
also a good amount of young anarchists and anarchist
sympathizers present. Most of them were what is called
"precarious workers" in Canada, working in low-paid,
part-time jobs with no security. Their workplaces are
supermarkets, restaurants, large bookstores and chic
cafe's. In these workplaces there is a large
amount of discontent but no palpable tradition of organizing.
But this new generation of workers is looking to change that.
They understand that their working standards are lower than
that of their parents and that the way to get back to that
position of (relative) power against the bosses is to organize
and struggle collectively, be it with affiliation to a
mainstream union, an alternative union (such as the
IWW[4]) or simply with a non-affiliated workers association
(such as the Bike Couriers Association of Montreal).

The anarchists of this new generation of workers know that
unions must not only serve as a tool for gaining better
working standards, but also as rallying points for the
planning of the overthrow of capitalism and the building of a
new (anarchist) world.

This move being made by younger anarchists getting
involved in their workplaces is encouraging in NEFAC's
perspective. Not only are they gaining a wider audience for
their ideas than any protest movement can give them (even
the large anti-globalization one), they are closer to actually
challenging capitalism materially, as it is at the point of
production where everything starts in capitalist society, and
hence where everything could stop...

Without a doubt, the 'Anarchy at Work' tour was a success
for NEFAC and we hope it was just as beneficial for those
who attended. From speaking in a union hall in Quebec City
to meeting a former Love and Rage[5] member and his
unionist father and friends in Hamilton, to speaking in a
packed cafe of beer and coffee drinking
patrons in Montreal, to being witnesses to the wonderful
organizing being done by the Ottawa IWW and ACCA[6], to
speaking in Kingston in mid-afternoon at the Sleepless Goat
Cafe workers cooperative with it's red and
black flag out front, it's really the tour hosts that made
anarchy at work.



[1] There are plans for a U.S. leg of the same tour sometime
in the Fall or Winter of 2003. This article relates only to the
Canadian portion of the tour.

[2] Canadian Union of Public Employees

[3] Ontario Coalition Against Poverty

[4] Industrial Workers of the World

[5] Love and Rage was a North American anarchist
organization that existed from 1989-1998

[6] Anti-Capitalist Community Action


The A-Infos Radio Project has an audio recording of the
'Anarchy At Work Tour' (from the Sleepless Goat Cafe and
Workers' Cooperative in Kingston, Ontario) which can be
found at:



Nic works as the external coordinator for the People's Potato
at Concordia University, and is a member of Groupe
anarchiste Bete Noire (NEFAC-Montreal)


This essay is from the newest issue of The Northeastern
Anarchist. The theme this issue is 'Anarchists in the
Workplace' with essays focussing on class war strategies
and analysis for anarchists that go beyond orthodox
syndicalism... Anarcho-communist approaches to labor
organizing, strike solidarity, workers autonomy, base
unionism, flying squads, and much more!


To order a copy of this forthcoming issue, please send $5ppd
($6 international). For distribution, bundle orders are $3 per
copy for three or more copies, and $2.50 per copy for ten or

Checks or money orders can be made out to "Northeastern
Anarchist" and sent to:

Northeastern Anarchist PO Box 230685 Boston, MA 02123
northeastern_anarchist (at) yahoo.com

See also:

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