In this post we are excited to present some excerpts from Fighting for ourselves: anarcho-syndicalism and the class struggle, by the Solidarity Federation (‘SolFed’). The pamphlet will be officially released in full in October and SolFed will distribute paper copies at the London Anarchist Bookfair on October 27th. SolFed is a revolutionary union initiative based in the UK. They’re affiliated with the International Workers Association, an anarcho-syndicalist federation of unions and organizations of which the CNT in Spain and the FAU in Germany are members. Some of us in Recomposition know members of SolFed through posting on libcom.org or visits to the UK and we take what they have to say seriously. This feeling is also mutual for SolFed when it comes to the IWW, as they have adopted the Organizer Training we use here in North America and tailored it to their needs.
In February of 2009, Brighton SolFed wrote a pamphlet called Strategy & Struggle: anarcho-syndicalism in the 21st century. It provoked quite a bit of discussion within SolFed, as well as the wider English speaking anarchist/communist movement. Taking internal criticisms on, the pamphlet was withdrawn and work began on an improved and more extensive piece.
Fighting for ourselves: anarcho-syndicalism and the class struggle is that document. Fairly extensive for a pamphlet, Fighting for ourselves includes a broad history of the workers movement, from the first proto-union groups started to the German councilists, to the CNT and FORA, to the historical IWW and ‘workers parties’. It identifies these groups and currents in relation to what they’ve learned from and how this is incorporated into their world view and action.
We think the new pamphlet is very good. We’re eventually going to write up and post a review of the entire pamphlet, but before we do that, we’ve gotten permission to post some excerpts from it that we think readers of our blog will find interesting. We post these here because we think these excerpts are interesting in themselves, and even more so because we want to encourage people to read the whole pamphlet once it comes out.
The first excerpt is about the historical IWW. To be clear, we don’t think this section is worth reproducing merely because we’re members and love the ‘old timey’ stuff, but because it mentions things of some significance today. Also the way the old IWW is portrayed has ramifications on what happens in the IWW of 2012, similarly probably to how the way the CNT of the 1930s is portrayed has effects on the CNT of today.
One of these things is, instead of parroting the line that the union was ‘apolitical’, it sees that the ‘direct actionist’ members seeing politics expressed better through economic or direct action. Another aspect that’s briefly acknowledged is the One Big Union concept and that there has been nuance and variations on how this was interpreted and viewed.
Finally, unlike many other historical accounts, it confirms, yes, the IWW still exists, and it is still organizing. Along with the One Big Union concept (which referenced recent articles in the Industrial Worker) and the direct unionism debate, it’s a reminder that what the IWW does and says has importance, and that people many thousands of miles away pay attention. We in the IWW, should, in turn, pay attention to them.
One reason we should pay attention to SolFed is that their vision of a union is directly relevant to current discussions that IWW members are having about organizing, as the second excerpt demonstrates. Many people in the IWW have advocated against the IWW signing contracts with no strike clauses and have tried to develop noncontractual approaches to organization. In the second excerpt, SolFed lay out two categories for understanding unions, “the associational function” of unions and “the representative function” of unions. Elsewhere in the pamphlet, they describe most unions today as demonstrating the “domination of the representative function over the associational one.” We think contractual organizing creates or encourages this domination of representation over association, which is part of why we’re against contractualism in the IWW. Rejecting a representative approach to organizing, SolFed call for building unions that embody “the associational function of a union, stripped of any representative functions.” This is what we think IWW unionism should aspire to be. Continue reading