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Submitted by AWL on Thu, 31/05/2012 - 10:22

If you think this action has genuinely "done a tremendous amount" to "weaken" Alan Meale's power we will just have to agree to disagree on this point. I find this frankly delusional.

Is it your view that "no platform" (i.e. attempting, wherever possible, to prevent the public expression, in any form, of their politics) is the correct default tactic that should be applied to all "politicians", and that the consideration about whether you would actually attempt to apply the tactic is entirely strategic (i.e. "the grey areas")?

Can I ask why you don't think it's appropriate to "no platform" trade union leaders? (Or do you?) Do you see any distinction between Len McCluskey and a Tory MP? (I know some anarchists wouldn't).

I'm not saying Labour MPs are never legitimate targets for this kind of action (although I think the term "no platform" is not quite the right one here). In circumstances in which, for example, a May Day rally organised entirely undemocratically through TUC officialdom (i.e. by unelected, unaccountable union officials) which had been bureaucratically imposed on a local labour movement and whose platform featured Blairite types like Meale, you might decide to stage an action like this (although it would depend on a lot of other factors).

But I don't think this was the dynamic in Nottingham. For all its many faults, the Trades Council in Notts is one of the better ones in the country. Meale's invitation was primarily a problem of politics, not of a lack of democratic procedures. The implication (intended or otherwise) of the anarchist action was that the prosecution of that political debate within the actual labour movement itself is beneath them, a waste of time. It suggests (again, I'm sure this was unintentional) a certain patronising disdain for the ability of trade unionists to reach better political conclusions.

If I'd been in the meeting that voted on whether to invite Meale I'd have voted against it. But I wouldn't then have said "because I've lost this vote, I'm going to sabotage the carrying out of the decision". I'd have leafleted against Meale, made critical comments, probably heckled. But I take responsibility for my actions as part of the labour movement, as the organised movement of our class (which it is, whether we like it or not), not as someone who might "tactically" decide to intervene in trade unions when it suits my political purposes.

Which brings me onto the issue about "the labour movement" versus "the working class". The trade unions - the existing ones, the shit, undemocratic, sell-out ones - are the organisations of our class. They are not alien bodies imposed on us by capital. They are, by their nature, locked into class struggle. Workers organised in them (6 or 7 million is not a small number) are organised as workers, at the point of production - i.e. the point at which capitalism happens. That makes them "special" types of organisation from the point of view of people who think workers can change the world and necessarily a key focus (the key focus in my view).

No-one is suggesting that the class is limited to workers currently organised through established trade unions. But I think you're guilty of the opposite error you accuse us of; the unorganised elements of the class are not somehow more likely to take militant class-struggle direct action because they're free from the fetters of bureaucratic trade unions.

It's simply not the case that AWL is unserious about unorganised workers, and in fact we've had rather more to say about the need to "find ways of relating to [them]" than most left groups. But to say, as you do, that "the key task [my emphasis]" is to "find ways of relating to [...] unorganised workers", implicitly relegating the task of relating to organised workers to an order of lesser importance.

The AWL - nor SolFed, nor AFed, nor anyone else - cannot substitute for a mass movement capable of mobilising millions of unorganised workers into permanent, democratic workplaces collectives (i.e. unions) and common struggles. We can, however, act as a lever within the mass movement of workers who are already - however imperfectly - organised, and attempt to catalyse transformations there.

You denounce this perspective as "alchemical". (I should say, tangentially, that "turning the TUC into the CNT" is not our perspective.) If you conceive of the transformation of the labour movement as a crude process - whereby things gradually build up until some mystical tipping point at which there's a decisive qualitiative shift - then yes, it is alchemical. But that's not our perspective. The transformation of the existing labour movement will more closely resemble the New Unionism of the 1880s - huge, often unstable, struggles that will radically shake-up, transform, break apart, recreate old organisations and create new ones. Our best contribution towards making that happen can currently be made by agitating, educating, and organising for it amongst currently-organised workers.

Have you read "Can we build a revolutionary workers' movement?", and if so - what do you think? I'm not trying to elide the discussion around this specific incident into a more general one but it seems like the arguments we were trying to respond to in that article are basically the ones under discussion here, so it might provide some focus.

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Daniel Randall

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