What is the relationship between the objectives of the revolutionary union movement and its actions? Ever since unions were first integrated into the State and its legal framework for collaborative industrial relations, the revolutionary union movement has had hard questioned pressed upon it. At crucial moments revolutionary unions defected to back policies destructive to the working class such as the CGT in France supporting WWI, the leadership of the CNT joining the government during the war, and Mexico’s Casa del Obrera Mundial taking up arms for the state against the rural Zapatista movement in its revolution. The post-war labor movement has been defined by trying to navigate the integration of unions within the State and often management, and the subsequent dismantling of those relationships. Today we still grapple with these issues as we try to find ways to fight around daily issues while building a powerful movement of working class people towards a new revolutionary horizon.
This piece comes to us from our brothers and sisters in the Confederation of Revolutionary Anarcho-Syndicalists CRAS-AIT in Russia. Vadim Damier, historian of the seminal work Anarcho-syndicalism in the 20th Century (published and translated by Black Cat Press) writes about the experiences of the spanish anarchosyndicalist union the CNT from a critical perspective, and gives an alternative followed by CRAS-AIT today inspired by experiences in anarchosyndicalists in Argentina. Whichever position you take, this discussion is crucial now as the basis for unions is being transformed, and uncertain possibilities and challenges are unfolding.
Anarchism and Syndicalism: the «CNT model» and its dilemma
-by Vadim Damier
One philosopher has once told that the one, who doesn’t study history, is doomed to repeat its errors. The problem consists just in looking for what was made may be not correctly or not very well in the past. This can give a possibility to avoid some mistakes in the present and in the future.
Of course, it would be unreasonably and conceitedly to give advices to comrades living in a country removed in thousands of kilometers, with quite other situation and with differing conditions of social and workers struggle. But when I turn around back on history of anarcho-syndicalist movement in Spain, I see not only brilliant victories and the Great Revolution, but also certain internal problems. And these problems remain the same throughout all history of heroic CNT.
The attempts of Bolshevist usurpation in the beginning of 1920s; the permanent discussions about participation in the politic; the cooperation of leading group of Pestaña and Peirò with oppositional politicians in the struggle against the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera; the Treintismo; the refusal of realization in July of 1936 of Concepto confederal del comunismo libertario adopted on Zaragoza congress; the “Ministerialismo” in the Civil War; the common front of “internal” fraction with authoritarian parties in the struggle against Franco in the 1940s and 1950s; the “Cincopuntismo”; the massive infiltration of the Reformists and then finally the splits which led to a creation of the CGT; and finally the actual troubles with the “heterodoxos” and attempts to force some of their most active critics out of Confederation… (more…)
This entry is the second part in a two-part story from contributor Phinneas Gage about a wildcat strike by contractors at the Canadian postal service, and continues our coverage of struggles within Canada Post.
The phone rang irritatingly early, early enough I ignored it the first time. Apparently Lise-Anne called several other executive members after she left a message for me. I later found out the message she left me said: “they’re cutting our pay by 30%, we had a coffee break meeting and we vote unanimously to walk out in response, what do we do now?”
The phone rang again, this time I picked up. “We just walked out, we’re sitting across the street in the Tim Horton’s”. Eight months prior I had talked to the workers at this depot about racial discrimination and harassment one co-worker was facing. They marched on the boss with eight people that sent a strong enough message it put an end to that issue. Even if the racist supervisor was still around he was a lot quieter. The workers became more assertive, and very strong on the floor. A series of small actions built the solidarity among the rural workers to the point where they felt strong enough to fight a change to the work measurement system that was going to cut their pay by almost a third.
“Did you make any demands?” I asked groggily, sometimes folks are so angry they forget to say what they want.
“Yeah, we wanted a repeal of the policy and he told us that the union was going to be upset we did this”.
“What did you say to that?”
“I said we didn’t need their permission to do this, but the local President and Sharon are coming down to talk to us and see what they can do to help”. (more…)
This week’s piece comes to us Erik Forman, a contributor to Recomposition. Forman cut his teeth organizing as an IWW in different fast food establishments before the recent push by SEIU and other unions. The text is a repost from from Counterpunch’s Monthly Digital Exclusive. In Fast Food Unionism, he gives a broad background of the industry, business union tactics, and draws out some directions that an autonomous movement of fast food workers could take to remedy the issues he identifies. Drawing from his experience both as a worker and a direct organizer in the field, the piece brings a closeness that is often missing in many discussions. (more…)
This week we’re including a piece by Scott Nikolas Nappalos on media and communication where he argues that we need to view them as part of our political process rather than just tools. The IWW has a unique history when it comes to culture, media, and communication in the history of North America. In particular, the IWW experimented with different forms of communication and media as part of its organizing including the famous cartoons, songs, the Industrial Worker newspaper, and the One Big Union Monthly. IWWs used forms of communication as political acts in ways that were innovative for their time such as silent agitators (mass visual propaganda), song and soapboxing tactics, and publications that sustained a working class culture of writers, artists, poets, and working intellectuals. Though good history of this is absent (and indeed of the IWW in general), Salvatore Salerno’s book Red November, Black November explores how culture and community formed a backbone of the IWW. The union went so far as to create a workers university run by IWWs, the Work Peoples College, that addressed a broad range of life under capitalism including basic skills, jobs and home life, as well as training for participating in the IWW, and of course political, artistic, and scientific education. This tradition was picked up by IWWs who started an annual educational and cultural retreat in Minnesota for IWWs by the same name. While focusing on the North American context and the IWW specifically, his points also apply more generally. Nappalos ideas open up a different take on communication that moves away from all the hype and technofetishism of our age, and tries to shift the focus towards understanding our role in sustaining and nurturing political relationships in struggle.
Traditionally many radicals have looked at communication and media as tools for implementing their ideas, programs, and lines on populations. Adopting the same model from capitalist marketing theory and propaganda models, communication is thought of as transmitting information from sender to receiver, with most of the thinking centered around how we can best transmit the information to our receivers, how to achieve the greatest numbers, etc. Different media are debated, and today fascination with the emergence of social media and internet culture has captivated political actors of all stripes. After the development of mass industrialized media around a century ago, the model of media and communication as a megaphone still is dominant in the actions and thinking of our time. (more…)
The people involved in Recomposition care a lot about history as a way to reflect on the present and our tasks. With that in mind, below is a rough outline for an introduction to US labor history. The outline attempts to periodize important organizations and broad trends by decade. A particular focus is to also look at the changing relationship of the left within the labor movement. (more…)