The post on Unite and the ensuing discussion got me thinking about unions as a form of class organisation, and the possibilities they offer to a revolutionary project, as well as their limitations. I’ve also been thinking that some form of modified anarcho-syndicalism, with a presence beyond work and in the community, could well prove to be project that might alleviate some of these limitations and is worth investigating further. For the meantime, however, here are some (incomplete) notes about existing forms of anarcho-syndicalism, starting with its essential aspects.
The Essential Aspects
Unions for workers, run by workers, with no separation between organisers and members, with no hierarchy whatsoever. Controlled from the bottom, using mandated, recallable and temporary delegates, and with no authority positions outside the shop floor, voted or otherwise. This is an attempt to stop the formation of power over workers in the form of a union bureaucrats which, despite their best intentions, develop interests of their own that come to partially align with those of capital, and become a class of their own (leftist managerial class).
Industrial unionism, not trade unionism. Unions will be organised around the workplace, not the individual trades. A hospital, for example, will be organised as a single union, not in multiple unions such as cleaners, doctors, junior doctors, receptionists, etc., in recognition of a common enemy in the employer and in recognition that no one job is more valuable than any other. Unions within a similar industry will cooperate in federation to stop scabbing and unions in a geographic locale will also cooperate in federation to organise strike support and local workers initiatives (education, food coops, etc.).
Use of direct action to get the goods. This means non-cooperation with any form of State-based worker-employer arbitration board and rather a reliance on, and development of, workers’ own strength. It means avoidance of contracts, etc. except in conditions of very weak workers’ power, as contracts prohibit direct action for agreed lengths of time.
Anti-parliamentary position. A refusal, on all accounts, to engage in State-based politics, whether backing a left party claiming to act on their behalf, or seeking reforms (as reforms invariably are made after they are established on the ground).
Preparation for the general strike/general insurrection. This includes not only preparation for the defence of workers when they take back the means of production in the form of community militias, but more importantly the preparation for continuing production (in industries worth continuing, that is) after the productive tools are expropriated. This means developing relationships with workers in other industries for which cooperation is required, developing skills among workers within an industry to continue production by themselves, etc.
Schools of the revolution. Anarcho-syndicalist unions teach through practice the various essential tendencies required for an anarchist society, including cooperation, mutual aid, solidarity, egalitarian and non-authoritarian forms of organisation, reliance on themselves and not on others, etc.
Preparation for worker-run industries. This preparation doesn’t mean a continuation of the status quo of industrial society, either. It merely means that in the immediate aftermath of any general insurrection the material necessities can be provided while more thorough material changes can be made (ie. decentralisation of industry, etc.).
Social struggle reduced to class struggle. Anarcho-syndicalism, primarily, is organised around production and our material existence. It may not be well suited to other sites of social struggle, such as racism and indigenous oppression, patriarchy, etc., without concerted effort and an adaptation of tactics.
Tendency towards pure economism. That is, a tendency to focus almost exclusively on day to day and immediate economic issues, seeking just the bread but neglecting the roses. Other social issues well suited for anarcho-syndicalism to attack, such as war, may be sidelined (as the Spanish CNT found). As well, a vision of a general insurrection and its preparation will tend to be deferred to focus on immediate needs.
Tendency to just focus on workers, and exclude others from class struggle, ie. unemployed, single parents, students etc. This arises from the difficulty of unemployed to fight against WINZ as, unlike workers, they don’t have their labour power to deny. New tactics are required for these groups whose struggle is very much class oriented.
Opposition between workers’ immediate interests under capitalism and other social struggles. For example, between miners and ecological destruction. Successful compromises, such as the green ban, require workers to go beyond their immediate and even mid-term interests. However, the end of all coal mining industries, for example, which is necessary to halt climate change is too conflictual under capitalist relations for a working compromise.