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Submitted by AWL on Wed, 31/08/2016 - 21:06

I'll put it bluntly: organising the organised is as important as organising the unorganised.

Take the Grangemouth dispute; a massive private sector workplace in a hugely strategic industry with incredibly high levels of union density (organised by the biggest union in the country). Unite got completely turned over. That needs fixing. "Build the IWGB" does not solve the problem.

To give another example; the railway industry (which I guess is sort of public-sector-in-exile but with private employers). Another hugely significant industry in strategic terms. We do sometimes win victories there but we're a lot weaker than we should be. We should have the bosses permanently by the throat. But we don't, partially because workers' organisation in that industry is weakened by sectionalism, and the huge democratic deficit between unions' structures and direction and their mass memberships that exists in all unions (even in a relatively more militant and, in many ways, democratic union like mine, RMT).

Again, "build the IWGB" is not a strategy for addressing any of that.

It requires revolutionaries and other radicals who work in that industry to act as educators, agitators, and organisers for revolutionary class-struggle strategies and politics, with a transformative perspective towards our existing organisations (unions) that doesn't see their current composition as sacrosanct (e.g., arguing for industrial unionist perspectives even in Aslef) nor the power of the bureaucracy as unbreakable.

"Rescue" implies a degree of passivity and victimhood which I'm sure neither of us would be comfortable with. I would never counsel any group of workers to "sit on their hands". But I do certainly believe that better-organised sections of the class, with more strength/power, have a responsibility to the rest of the class.

The aspects of the "social strike perspective" I think might be worthwhile talk about workers who have high levels of organisation and leverage using that power beyond the limits of their immediate economic relationship with their employer, in a way that empowers wider sections of the class. But, as I said in the article, that fundamentally requires subjective agency and political will on the part of the strikers themselves. I'm instinctively uncomfortable with the idea that the "socialising" process is something that's "done to" a strike, "from the outside".

I also believe that we won't make significant inroads into organising the 19.2 million without an integral role on the part of the 7 million. With the best will in the world, the IWGB, UVW, or IWW are not going to organise Amazon warehouses or Tesco's distribution network. For workers there to do that will require resourcing and infrastructural support. Where will that come from, if not the existing labour movement? The existing unions are shit, they won't provide that support, or they'll do it in a shit way? Yes, they will - unless their existing members substantially transform them. So we're back to the centrality of "organising the organised".

Part of the issue with our argument here, I suspect, is that we're talking across each other and, to some extent, ourselves. We're both talking in quite grand terms about rebuilding class power on a mass scale, recomposing the labour movement, etc. But I think we're necessarily also talking about how a small group of revolutionary workers within that movement can most effectively dispose of its necessarily limited resources; that's obviously informed by the grand strategic assessment, but "build mass class power and recompose the entire labour movement" is obviously not an answer to the question: "how should AWL/Plan C/SolFed members [I have a vague recollection from a previous exchange that you're in SolFed, but I may be misremembering or it may no longer be true] prioritise and focus their energies?"

(By the way, in terms of the "mass strike" phrase, I meant it literally - i.e., a very big strike. I wasn't referencing the Luxemburg/Kautsky debate.)

Again - I'm not telling anyone to wait. If a group of, say, Amazon workers organise a fight with their management, the exigencies of their struggle take precedence. They don't have to "take one for the team" by waiting while the rest of us get our act together.

But even if your actual perspective is "fuck the unions, let's just start again in ones and twos in unorganised workplaces and build a pure trade union movement without any flaws" (I know that's not what you're arguing, but let's take that as a kind of hyperbolised version of the "build a new labour movement from scratch" approach), then at some point you're going to encounter the existing movement, even if only as an obstacle when some established union tries to sign a sweetheart deal with the employer you're trying to organise against, and nicks your members. How to prevent or undermine that? An independent rank-and-file in that union would have to rein its officials in.

Again: organising the organised is essential.



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