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Submitted by AWL on Thu, 01/09/2016 - 01:59

You're boxing with shadows if you think I'm arguing that it's not possible or desirable to engage with, or "intervene in", a strike or struggle in which one is not directly involved.

As I said in the original article:

“... when workers from a workplace in which we have no comrades go on strike, Workers' Liberty necessarily relates to the strike 'from the outside', seeking to support it and help amplify it, and, if we can, to engage the workers in discussions about the strategy and direction of the strike. But we are still relating to it from within the broad labour movement (we can build solidarity with the strike within our own workplaces and unions), and we don't extrapolate from our external position that 'mass collective action at the point of production' might in some way be old hat because we happened not to be directly involved in it at that moment.”

And I think I can say without too much ego that AWL played a fairly key role in sparking the Vestas struggle, in which (a section of) an entirely un-unionised private-sector workforce was persuaded to conduct a sit-down strike by a week's worth of factory-gate agitation by a bunch of Trots and a couple of others.

When we first found out that the factory was closing, we didn't go, "oh, we'd better see if we can get a Unite branch to pass a policy about this", a few comrades just got on a ferry and went to talk to the workers. And when it looked like a struggle might be sparked, we didn't say, "hang on, sit on your hands until a TUC union shows up". So I don't think it's fair to accuse us either of precluding the possibility of action outside the channels of the "official" movement, nor of the possibility of engaging with or even catalysing struggles "from the outside" (although again, I'd stress that while "outside" a given workplace or industry, we should still be relating to it from within the broad labour movement).

I think your Saltley Gate comparison is a bit daft, to be honest, and further evidence that "the social strike" can basically be used to mean anything anyone wants. A direct call from the leadership of the NUM to other unionised workers to take direct action to maximise the impact of the miners' strike doesn't seem to me to have much in common with anything we've been discussing, given that all the workers involved were a) unionised by "traditional" unions and b) had a huge amount of what one might call "old fashioned" industrial leverage.

To be quite honest, I'm not entirely convinced that the "social strike perspective" has any explanatory, strategic, or tactical value at all, but I am interested in the idea of, say, the 84/85 miners' strike as a "social strike" - in the sense of a strike that poses in an acute way "social" questions, that is, questions of who runs society and in whose interests; but solidarity action of the Saltley Gate type seems a different matter.

Finally, on "organising where you are", so to speak: If you're a revolutionary in a totally un-unionised workplace and you want to organise it, you'd obviously have to weigh up whether it was better to do that through a TUC union or an "independent" one. As I've said, I don't rule out the latter as a potentially useful instrument, although on balance I think the circumstances in which I think that would make most sense would be relatively particular and rare.

But either way, a revolutionary left that does not have a perspective for transforming the existing labour movement (whether or not the particular employment circumstances of the existing membership of your group allow you as much direct involvement as you might wish, and whatever else it says about organising the unorganised) would seem to me pretty profoundly strategically limited.

Anyway, thanks for writing a response to the original article. I'm looking forward to reading it.

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DR

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