A dozen of us met in a smaller, lockdown-proof circle to talk about the general direction of our group and to forge some plans. We started by discussing the situation in the UK.
Situation in the UK
We went through the various scenarios and constraints the state faces when trying to manage the financial fall out of the Covid-19 crisis on top of the general decline of profitability. Our main question was how this relates to concrete working class politics. Here we mainly talked about the potentials and difficulties in a situation where the state becomes the focus of demands, both from the side of capital and the working class. We see the explosiveness, such as the uprisings in Argentina or Chile, where the impoverished masses focus on a common enemy. We see the problems of it in the current case of British Airways or Rolls Royce workers, who appeal to the politicians, instead of widening the struggle against job cuts to workers in other companies. A comrade working for TfL (Transport for London) described the same dynamic, where management proclaims to side with the workers against the government and UNITE wants workers to defend Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, against central government. We then reviewed the recent responses to the lockdown, the strikes against the lack of health and safety on one side, the mobilisations against the lockdown regime by impoverished proletarians and small business owners on the other. We ended on a wider discussion of the struggles against job cuts, in particular in sectors like aviation, on the background of ideas such as a ‘Just Transition’ or a ‘Green New Deal’ on one hand, and the debate on concrete steps towards a fundamental social change on the other.
Class and organisation
We moved from the question of ‘objective conditions’ to the question of ‘subjective response’ from the working class and ourselves within it.
In addition to this text a comrade presented a paper regarding the difference between ‘the activist’ and ‘the militant’ and why we saw a shift towards the former since the 1980s. We saw an increasing gap between personal life as working class people and political activity. ‘Activism’ is for the time after work. In the discussion, we noticed a certain gap between seeing the ‘emancipation of the working class as a deed of the working class itself’ and the question of ‘our role as militants’. Here we noted that ‘the working class’ is not a homogeneous block, but composed of struggles under very different material conditions. Our role relates to these differences and how to overcome them in view of fighting together for a social alternative.
We then focused on our own work and discussed our local experiences.
The group in Croydon has been focusing on contacts with Amazon drivers, also because the situation there is crap, e.g. partners of drivers helping out, resulting in two people working for one wage. They have organised fortnightly visits over the last five months, five different flyers and a newsletter, and despite having established contacts, Amazon drivers don’t show up at agreed meetings. This is partly to do with the general condition of self-employed courier drivers, and perhaps partly with the way we present ourselves. We discussed whether presenting yourself as a ‘group of local workers’ adequately explains the relationship and/or is enough to encourage workers. Would more frequent visits make any difference? If workers only move if they get the assurance or insurance of an organisation with financial and legal resources, then the situation is pretty limited in political terms. Our main qualitative leap would be to turn up at Amazon with a bigger group of local workers who could encourage the drivers.
There would be no problem to approach the situation with a rank-and-file union, if the Croydon group maintains its political independence (newsletter etc). The question here is more general: are we mainly there to ‘encourage action?’ Would we move on if workers were to take action? In the case of the Amazon workers, it would still be important to keep in a political dialogue, e.g. informing them about current struggles at Amazon in Poland, share our ideas about Covid and the crisis, about a social alternative. The contact should be maintained, while the focus of ‘activity’ could move on to UPS or other local companies or the local council workers, who are increasingly under threat. There is a general problem with couriers: self-employment, blokes who cherish their ‘independence’ etc..
Here the question is also if there is enough political cohesion within the Croydon group. Some people might get frustrated if there are no ‘immediate result’; some might find the political discussions within the wider network too ‘cerebral’ – only few get involved in the wider discussions. These are re-occurring problems between the risk of ‘localism/syndicalism’ on one side and ‘political loftiness’ on the other. We should make an effort to maintain a cohesion between local activities and general political debate. We might also have to work on the ‘discussion environment’, see debate on Lebanon, which turned into a ‘questioning session’. We might have to separate Zoom meetings in order that new people can avoid having to sit through boring ‘coordinating meetings’. The group just published their second newsletter:
The group started distributing a general leaflet – but many workers are furloughed. Efforts are made to reach workers via Facebook and Twitter. A meeting took place with local comrades (trade union people, left Labour) to discuss if they are interested in such an independent initiative. Some came to help handing out flyers. People took part in a car protest, with 40 people, but there were only two workers, the rest activists and retired trade unionists. The protest was not communicated to workers by the unions. Contacts have been established with ‘Stay Grounded’, who approach the Heathrow situation from an environmentalist perspective. The group plans a Zoom meeting with and for Heathrow workers, but we need two more workers who are willing to speak. Alternatively we could first organise the international Zoom meeting with airport worker comrades from Frankfurt, Madrid and the USA. There is the idea to organise a solidarity protest for Rolls Royce workers who face job cuts. The next leap would be to publish a strike newsletter, for that we would need short reports from different workers. Currently BA Cargo and baggage handlers ballot for industrial action, we should try and establish contacts. The group circulate a newsletter for the upcoming strike:
First visit at Whirlpool factory with solidarity leaflet for Whirlpool workers in Naples who fight against closure. No immediate contacts came out of it. Hopefully a group can be formed through three lines, which converge in the medium-term: through a series of political discussion meetings as soon as the situation allows; through the SolNet (posters are printed) and more adhoc contacts, such as Whirlpool; through jobs (NHS, logistics).
We acknowledged that it is difficult to kickstart a local group under current conditions, as we cannot organise visits or have face-to-face meetings, e.g. book presentations. The question is if there is enough proximity between individual comrades (Liverpool, Sheffield, Leeds, Manchester) in order to galvanise some forces around a practical project.
We finally talked about what we want to do together over the coming months.
We want to focus on finalising a few more interviews about fellow workers experience during the lockdown and in the current situation of crisis. These interviews will be summarised as part of a general pamphlet in which we present some ideas about the crisis and how we can respond to it. The pamphlet’s main point is that we need working class self-organisation and coordination in concrete day-to-day terms. We also want to present some ideas on the need for a pragmatic revolutionary transition. The pamphlet is meant to reach out to other working class militants, in view of a hopefully bigger meeting in autumn 2021.
We want to formulate a letter to comrades abroad with concrete questions about the current situation in terms of struggles against the Covid19 regime and the fall-out in terms of job and wage cuts. Aim is to have brief reports from various countries which can be read before having an online discussion meeting – in order to avoid having to listen to long reports in front of Zoom screens. Focus should be on the conditions for struggle and our support.
Comrades agreed to put together a reading and discussion list for the next six months. These will be primarily ‘fundamental’ topics.
Name and website
‘Let’s get rooted’ reminds us too much of gardening centres and Australian dating websites, we therefore generalise ‘AngryWorkers’ as the name of the wider network. We work on a new website and a series of podcasts on general questions, book reviews etc.
We will meet again in three months time. Comrades who want to work with us and attend the meeting, please drop us a line: firstname.lastname@example.org