You are here

revolutionary unions

A Rebel Worker's Organising Handbook

By Zabalaza - August 2011

Almost everyone in this society is underpaid and over-worked. Many temps, contract and casual workers have very few rights, and permanent workers are still always under the threat of redundancy. Many people are massively exploited and ill-treated, and thousands are killed at or by their work each year. Millions more suffer stress, depression, anxiety and are injured.

The indignity of working for a living is well-known to anyone who ever has. Democracy, the great principle on which our society is supposedly founded, is thrown out the window as soon as we punch the time clock at work. With no say over what we produce, or how that production is organised, and with only a small portion of that product’s value finding its way into our wages, we have every right to be pissed off at our bosses.

At work in a capitalist society, we are forced to labour in return for a wage. Employers hire workers, and pay us less than the value of the work we do. The surplus amount is taken from us and turned into capital - profit for shareholders and corporate expansion. Thus all workers are exploited. Consequently, we all have a shared interest in getting a bigger share of the fruits of our labour, as well as in winning better working conditions and shorter working hours.

We can do this by organising at work. This pamphlet is a resource to assist all workers in improving our jobs in the here and now, and we also believe that by organising to fight, we build the seeds of a new world - not based on capitalist exploitation but on cooperation between workplace collectives where production is democratically decided by worker/consumer councils and working hours are slashed. Harmful or useless industries, such as arms manufacturing, or the banking and insurance industries, could be eliminated.

The real essentials, like food, shelter, and clothing, could be produced by everyone working just a few hours each week. Environmentally destructive industries purely concerned with profit, such as fossil fuel power plants could be converted to use clean, renewable energy sources.

Building this better world, and counteracting the day to day drudgery of today’s wage-slavery we think can best be done using direct action in the workplace. Direct action is any form of action that is taken directly by those infected without relying on union bureaucrats or politicians and which cripples the boss’s ability to make a profit and makes them cave in to the workers’ demands. Different ways of taking action are outlined here.

All of the tactics discussed in this pamphlet depend for their success on solidarity, on the co-ordinated actions of a large number of workers. Individual acts of sabotage offer little more than a fleeting sense of revenge, which may admittedly be all that keeps you sane on a bad day at work. But for a real feeling of collective empowerment, there’s nothing quite like direct action by a large number of angry workers to make your day.

Read More - Download the PDF version of this document.

New Perspectives on Anarchism, Labour and Syndicalism (David Berry and Constance Bantman)

By David Berry and Constance Bantman - Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2010

Recent years have seen an upsurge of interest in the history of European anarchist and syndicalist movements. The rise of alter-globalisation protest borrowing many of its direct-action tactics from pre-World War I anarchism and syndicalism has been important in bringing it on over the last ten years or so. As the anthropologist and anarchist activist David Graeber has commented: “most of the creative energy for radical politics is now coming from anarchism,” and horizontal, acephalous organisation, networks, prefigurative politics and consensus decision-making have all become major themes for debate. The necessity to control international terrorist networks has also rekindled public interest in the anarchist diaspora of the late-nineteenth century, the golden age of “propaganda by the deed”, sparking many debates about the relevance of such comparisons. Within the academy, the study of anarchist and syndicalist movements and their functioning has been greatly spurred by new methodological developments opening up new perspectives. As a result, three essential trends have been developed in this field of study: the move towards transnational or global history; a renewed interest in historical biography and the mapping out of personal networks, and, as a result, new approaches to comparativism.

The current shift towards transnationalism in labour history can be taken to have started in 1990, with the publication of Marcel van der Linden and Wayne Thorpe’s landmark study Revolutionary Syndicalism in International Perspective. Transnational historyʊa term still competing with “new global history”, “connected histories”, or “entangled histories” ʊhas recently been defined as the study of “links and flow...people, ideas, products, processes and patterns that operate over, across, through, beyond, above, under, or in-between polities and societies”. Most areas of the humanities and social sciences have responded to this dramatic change of focus, which is based on the awareness of the entangled and interconnected nature of societies, not only as a result of the most recent period of economic globalisation, but also over the past centuries, and in their very essence. This drive towards transnational revisionism has stemmed from the acknowledgment that historiography has been overwhelmingly written within a national framework and needs to be reconsidered with greater attention for the international context which constitutes, explains, determines or contradicts national developments. This approach is also necessary to provide a much-needed history of globalisation.

Anarchism, syndicalism and more generally labour history provide a case in point for the pertinence of this angle of study, especially as a way of expanding research on working-class internationalism. Internationalism as an ideal and a practical organisational goal has been at the centre of labour activism since at least the universalist proclamations of the French Revolution, and became a prime endeavour after the International Working Men’s Association was set up in 1864. Labour internationalism, in its traditional and most widely accepted basic definition, is the ideology promoting universal brotherhood and solidarity among workers, and the setting up of organisations in order to achieve these aspirations.

Read the book (Link).

The Politics of Climate Change

Author Unknown - 2009

In recent years climate change has loomed large in the public imagination. Scientifically, there is little doubt that it is a real threat to the future of human civilisation. The greenhouse effect has been known about since the early 19th century — gases in the atmosphere such as carbon dioxide, methane and water vapour trap heat from the sun, causing the climate of the planet to heat up over time. Probably the most spectacular known example of this effect in action is on Venus.

As recently as the 1960s it was thought that Venus might have a climate that could support life. However, in 1962, a US space probe measured its surface temperature at 425°C. Billions of years ago, it had a climate similar to that of earth today — but a runaway greenhouse effect turned it into a ball of fire.

The existence of the greenhouse effect is beyond doubt, as is the fact that humans have been busily pumping large volumes of greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere. The only matter for scientific debate concerns exactly what effect the greenhouse gases are having on our climate. As scientists have come up with new and better ways of measuring climate changes, an alarming consensus has emerged.

The global climate has been heating up significantly due to human activity and during the course of the 21st century temperatures will rise at least 1°C more and perhaps as much as 6.5°C. This is likely to have a cataclysmic effect on human civilisation.

Most alarmingly, the melting of ice sheets will see rises in sea levels that will threaten coastal settlements, but that is not the only risk. Any increased volatility in our climate is almost certain to leave it in a state where it is much less capable of sustaining billions of people.

In many ways, the identification in advance of the great risks that human society faces from greenhouse gases is a triumph of modern science. Climatic patterns are immensely complex and to arrive at the current scientific consensus on climate change has required a vast range of sophisticated experiments, new means of measurement and exceedingly elaborate computer models.

Were it not for the powerful tools of modern science, humanity would have walked blindly into an environmental catastrophe that might have wiped it out. However, there is a big gap between understanding the problem and coming up with a way of addressing it.

The Environmental Crisis

By the Workers' Solidarity Federation - January 1, 2005

The world is facing a very serious environmental crisis. Key environmental problems include air pollution, the destruction of the ozone layer, vast quantities of toxic waste, massive levels of soil erosion, the possible exhaustion of key natural resources such as oil and coal, and the extinction of plants and animals on a scale not seen since the death of the dinosaurs 60 million years ago. We think that this crisis is likely to have catastrophic effects in the future. Even today, the negative effects of the crisis are evident in the form of growing deserts, increased rates of cancer, and the loss of plant species which could hold out cures for diseases for diseases such as AIDS etc.

What caused the crisis?

We disagree with those environmentalists who blame the crisis on modern machine production. Many dangerous, environmentally destructive technologies and substances (for example, coal power stations, non-degradable plastics which do not rot in the ground) can be replaced with safer and sustainable industrial technologies (for example, solar technology, starch-based plastics). We think that modern forms of production have many potential advantages over small-scale craft production. Such as greatly increasing the number of essential products like bricks produced, and freeing people from unpleasant toil. We also disagree with the argument that says that workers and peasants cause the crisis by consuming “too many” resources. Most goods consumed in the world are consumed by the middle class and ruling class.

Instead, the real blame for the environmental crisis must be laid at the door of capitalism and the State. These structures create massive levels of inequality which are responsible for much ecological devastation. How? The accumulation of wealth and power in the hands of the few is associated with excessive and unjustifiable high levels of consumption by the ruling elite. The poverty caused by the system also creates environmental problems. For example, by forcing the poor to cut down trees for firewood, exhaust the tiny bits of farm land that they own in a desperate attempt to provide food, pollute rivers because they lack proper plumbing facilities etc.

The Environment

By the Workers' Solidarity Federation - January 1, 2005 [PDF File Available]

1. General Introduction

1. The Earth is facing an environmental crisis on a scale unprecedented in human history. This environmental crisis is already responsible for high levels of human suffering. If the crisis continues to develop at its current rate, the ultimate result wil be the extinction of human life on the planet.

2. We call for action to end the environmental crisis because of the threat it poses to humankind, and because we recognize that nature and the environment have value in their own terms. Although we hold human life above all other life on the planet, we do not think that humans have the right destroy animals, plants and eco-systems that do not threaten its survival.

3. The main environmental problems include:

3.1. Air pollution: destroys the ozone layer that filters out dangerous rays from the sun; creates a general increase in planetary temperatures (the greenhouse effect) that will severely disrupt weather patterns; turns rain water into acid that destroys plant and animal life; causes respiratory and other diseases amongst humans.

3.2. Solid waste: the sea and the land environments are poisoned by the dumping of dangerous industrial wastes (such as mercury and nuclear waste); the use of materials that nature cannot break down in packaging and in other products, particularly disposable products, have turned many parts of the world into large rubbish dumps as well as wasting resources; poisons and injures people.

3.3. Soil erosion: this takes place in both the First and the Third World, and is the result of factors such the (mis-)use of chemical fertilizers, dangerous pesticides etc, as well as inappropriate land use, land overuse, and the felling of trees. For these reasons, soil is eroded at a rate faster than that at which it is being produced; contributes to rural poverty [1].

3.4. Extinction: plants and animals are being made extinct at a faster rate than any time since the dinosaurs died out, 60 million years ago; results in the loss of many species, and undermines the ecosphere on which all life depends.

Porto Marghera: The Last Firebrands

Introducing Anarcho Syndicalism

By William Meyers - III Publishing, 2001

Anarchism is the theory and practice of individuals living without the interference of human authorities: without being bossed around by a church, government, military, or even a business boss. Syndicalism is the theory and practice of people working together as a union, most typically a labor union (syndicate is the French word for labor union). What does anarchosyndicalism mean? Can these two seemingly opposite concepts, people acting without bosses and people acting as a group, be combined? Could it mean a group of people working to create anarchy, or individuals working to create a union of individuals? Or is it just a muddle, an attempt to mix oil and water, that goes against the nature of things?

Of course words mean what people want them to mean. Anarcho-syndicalism, in the 19th century, came to mean both a method of people organizing themselves and a type of society they hoped to create. The society they desired was anarchist. In an anarchist society people voluntarily cooperate to work together for their own good and the community. Each individual remains free from coercion by bosses. The way they hoped to get to this society was through gaining workers’ control of production, of industry, agriculture, and trade. The way they could gain control of production was by organizing anarchist labor unions.

Anarchist labor unions have only a shell of resemblance to the type of labor unions that existed in the 19th and 20th centuries in the United States. In an anarchist labor union decisions are made democratically. There are few paid union officials and they are paid ordinary wages. There is no top-down hierarchy that orders around local affiliates. The union may appoint a committee to negotiate with an employer or to do other tasks, but the committee is of volunteers who have no permanent power or position in the union. The union is not usually organized according to craft, so that the workers at a given business belong to a variety of unions. Rather, all the workers at a workplace belong to the same union. Finally, the goals are different. Anarchist labor unions believe that capitalists should not run society, should not even run businesses. The businesses should be owned, controlled, and managed by the workers themselves. The practice of wage slavery should be abolished. Anarcho-syndicalism is about more than just how labor unions should function: it is about how society is organized and our relationship with nature.

Read the text (PDF).

Class Struggle and the Environmental Crisis: A South African Anarchist Pamphlet

By Zabalaza - ca 1995

The Earth is facing an environmental crisis on a scale unprecedented in human history. This environmental crisis is already responsible for high levels of human suffering. If the crisis continues to develop at its current rate, the ultimate result will be the extinction of human life on the planet.

We call for action to end the environmental crisis because of the threat it poses to humankind, and because we recognise that nature and the environment have value in their own terms. Although we hold human life above all other life on the planet, we do not think that humans have the right to destroy animals, plants and eco-systems that do not threaten our survival.

Read More - Download the PDF version of this document.

A Perspective on Sydney’s Green Ban Campaign, 1970-74

Burgmann, V. - Power and Protest, 1993

The background to the green-ban struggles is the story of the destruction of Australia's major cities in the 1960s and early 1970s, when vast amounts of money were poured into property development: giant glass and concrete buildings changed the face of our cities and valuable old buildings were razed in the process. The interests of home buyers and architectual heritage lost out against often purely speculative construction. At one stage, there was ten million square feet of vacant office space in Sydney's business district, while people looking for their first homes or flats could find nothing.

In 1971, the New South Wales branch of the Builders Labourers' Federation (BLF) decided this destruction should stop, even though they were the people employed to do it. The New South Wales branch was led by three men who soon became notorious. They were either loved or hated – Jack Mundey, Bob Pringle and Joe Owens. They argued that:

In a modern society, the workers' movement, in order to play a really meaningful role, must engage in all industrial, political, social and moral struggles affecting the working people as a whole…In this context, building workers are beginning to demand of governments, employers and architects that buildings which are required by the people should have priority over superfluous office buildings which benefit only the get-rich-quick developers, insurance companies and banks.

The union insisted priorities be reversed, that the construction of flats and houses was more important than piling up empty or under-used commercial office buildings. They claimed the right to intervene in the decision-making process and exert a degree of workers' control, determined as they were to use their labour in a socially useful manner. The campaign maintained that 'all work performed should be of a socially useful and of an ecologically benign nature'.

The movement got under way in 1971 when a group of women from the fashionable suburb of Hunter's Hill sought the help of the NSW BLF to save Kelly's Bush, the last remaining open space in that area, where A.V.Jennings wanted to build luxury houses. They had already been to the local council, the mayor, the local state member and the Premier, all to no avail. The union asked the Hunter's Hill women to call a public meeting at Hunter's Hill, to show that there was community support for the request for a union ban on the destruction of Kelly's Bush. Over 600 people attended the meeting, which formally requested a ban. This ban was called a green-ban, to distinguish it from a black-ban, a union action to protect the economic interests of its own members, in this case the union was going against the immediate economic interests of its members for the sake of a wider community and environmental interest.

From Cheerleader to Earth First!: Judi Bari

By Bruce Anderson – Anderson Valley Advertiser, November 11, 1989

On a sweltering day last summer, a diminutive, energetic woman stood talking to a pair of reporters on the Ukiah Courthouse steps. The woman leaned at the reporters, leading with her chin—as they’d say in boxing—as she talked. The woman was Judi Bari, associated primarily with Earth First!, but in reality an American radical in the uniquely American tradition. When she’d left off her talk with the reporters and had disappeared into this area’s class warfare headquarters, the Courthouse, one reporter looked at the other to say. “You know, that woman can talk! She doesn’t even come up for air. Not a breath.”

Well, Judi is a serious person living in an area and in a time when real feeling is considered bad form or just kind of crazy, so Bari finds herself fighting on many fronts against many kinds of opposition, but this lady can fight so effectively, it’s hard to associate her with cheerleaderism. “I really didn’t grow up with any political feelings,” she says, describing a sedate, if mildly fearful, upbringing by a pair of genteel liberals intimidated by the McCarthy-ite fifties. “My parents taught me Wobbly songs as nursery rhymes but told me not to say where I’d learned them,” Bari remembers with a disbelieving snort. “One of the best things about them was my parents lectured me and my sister against racial and ethnic hatreds. Later, when I was in college and came home wearing a Chairman Mao badge they said to me, ‘We’ve got to have a talk with you.’ I mean, this was kill your parents time, remember. So they went on to warn me against tying the sixties student movement to a foreign power. I came away with a whole new respect for my parents. They knew much more than I thought they did. And they were right, of course. We need an American radical left, not one looking overseas for a model.”

For years before that breakthrough discussion with her parents, Judi Bari was distinctly not a political person. “I was head cheerleader at my high school, for god’s sake! Can you believe that?” Frankly, no, but boundless renewable energy of the Bari dynamo variety can carry one to the heights of some peculiar organizations.

Bari began life in a working-class area of a town near Baltimore. Her neighbors all worked in the area’s steel mills. Bari’s mother later radically enhanced the family fortunes when she went back to college, emerging with the first PhD awarded to a woman in mathematics by Johns Hopkins University. Bari pere is a diamond setter, “which is, where I get my perfectly steady hands from,” his second daughter, Judi, says. Daughter number one is a science writer for the New York Times while daughter three is described by sister Judi as “a perpetual student.” Apparently the third Bari remains in school past the age of goal-oriented scholars.

“I had no political consciousness when I left high school. My big thing was to get dates with football players. I thought I had to act dumb and be cute and sweet because I didn’t know there were other social options available to me. It never really fit my personality.” Bari recalls her first political stirrings during her last year in high school when a star athlete asked her out. He happened to be black. Bari was visited by a delegation of white athletes who informed her none of them would ever again grace her with their stimulating company if she dated the black kid. “I didn’t go out with him.” she says with what is clearly a painfully nagging memory of capitulation to intimidation. She doesn’t say so, but it may be one of the only times Bari has ever given in.

From the la la land of high school, Mendocino County’s premier radical went to the University of Maryland in pursuit, not of higher learning and the elusive keys to life but in quest of football players, the odd status symbols of millions of misdirected young American women. “We called Maryland U, 13th grade” Bari recalls. “It was the place Spiro Agnew was referring to in his famous ‘effete intellectual snobs swept into college on the wave of the ‘new socialism’ speech.” Bari doesn’t recall much intellectual activity of any kind, but as a 1967 freshman she was in the right place at the right time. “It was one of those crank em-out schools. Agnew had just been elected as a liberal alternative—if you can believe that—to another right-wing crank named Mahoney who’d run on a straight racist platform of keeping blacks confined to their neighborhoods.” Bari was soon disillusioned with football players. “They were gross: just a bunch of big, dumb assholes who treated women very badly and who thought treating women badly was funny.” In a world in flux, there remains one constant—the personal behavior of the college athlete.

Bari soon began to meet company of a more interesting and hopeful kind, “As soon as I got away from home, I quickly figured out I didn’t have to go to class. I was soon into sex, drugs, and rock and roll.” Which in those wild days included, in its more alert manifestations, side trips into radical politics. “My first demo was a trip with hundreds of other students to the college president’s house one night to demand his underwear. The politicos in the mob tried to get everybody to chant ‘Elkins [the college prexy] must go,’ but they were drowned out by calls for Mrs. Elkins to give up her drawers.” But students there and everywhere were getting restless and more serious, as many of them had to consider the distinct possibility they could be shipped off as foot soldiers in the expanding imperial adventure in Vietnam.

Bari was soon one of the more politically active students at U Maryland, recalling with obvious delight her own transformation from flower child naïf to street fighter. “When Nixon invaded Cambodia in ‘70 we had flat out political riots. We took over Route 1 for anti-war protests.” Route One is the main road into War Maker Central, or Washington, DC. “I have an old picture that was in the newspapers of me giving water and flowers to the cops. I cringe now when I look at it, because I got as tired of hippies as I did of jocks. I was getting more and more of a feminist consciousness because I always seemed to be with men who had no interest in women beyond sex. One day I was on acid with this guy and I remember thinking, ‘God, what am I doing? This guy is totally disgusting.’ My friends and I all seemed to be having similar feelings. I stopped going out with men for a year, both as a reaction to football players and the dumb hippie exploitation of women through so-called, free love.” Love is never free as the cowboy songs tell us, a fact of life many women seemed to learn from their hippie experience.

Pages

The Fine Print I:

Disclaimer: The views expressed on this site are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) unless otherwise indicated and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s, nor should it be assumed that any of these authors automatically support the IWW or endorse any of its positions.

Further: the inclusion of a link on our site (other than the link to the main IWW site) does not imply endorsement by or an alliance with the IWW. These sites have been chosen by our members due to their perceived relevance to the IWW EUC and are included here for informational purposes only. If you have any suggestions or comments on any of the links included (or not included) above, please contact us.

The Fine Print II:

Fair Use Notice: The material on this site is provided for educational and informational purposes. It may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. It is being made available in an effort to advance the understanding of scientific, environmental, economic, social justice and human rights issues etc.

It is believed that this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have an interest in using the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. The information on this site does not constitute legal or technical advice.