This short text was used for debate at our AngryWorkers meeting in Sheffield a couple of months ago. It is another fragment in the debate about the relation between concrete struggles and the development of an organic working class transitional program. Please read the piece below in conjuncture with these two other contributions:
- This text on the question of a working class program and strategy used the election period in the US as an anchor, which in hindsight can be criticised. We still think that the wider thoughts on the necessity of a revolutionary strategy are valid.
- In the first part of this text on the current post-Brexit situation in the UK, we formulate some thesis about the political content and potential for generalisation within the current defensive strikes.
During the discussion in Sheffield, some comrades criticised this text for saying that as long as we are not effectively engaging with current strikes we are not really organised politically. Comrades maintained that we should not underestimate the significance of revolutionaries discussing politically and debating how to relate to current struggles. This is certainly true. At the same time many revolutionary efforts remain stuck on this level of externality. It is good to keep on provoking ourselves.
This is a brief contribution for the discussion on AngryWorkers and organisation. I want to make a narrowly focused point, a reductionist point, in order to hopefully sharpen the debate. My claim is that we are not organised in any collective and political sense if we don’t achieve the following:
- To visit the main and politically most relevant strikes that are currently going on
- To understand their background, internal undercurrents, possible points of generalisation after conversations with involved workers
- To contribute by making relevant suggestions and providing relevant contacts
- To write about the strike politically, both about its inner potentials and limits and its social context and feed these reports back to other strikers
- To keep in touch with at least one or two of the workers involved
- To invite workers from different strikes to a common reflection, which involves discussing the wider situation of the class and which results not in ‘new recruits’, but in ‘new collective interventions’ towards a political struggle program and strategy.
The next question, and here we could go through each of the points raised above, is what it would take to be organised. What subjective and objective conditions have to be met to be organised? What is lacking? At this point I don’t want to discuss whether the current strikes allow us to bring twenty militant fellow workers into a room together in order to discuss politically. At this point, and that is an assumption about the subjective condition that has to be given, I think that our motivation to go to these strikes largely has to be ‘political’, rather than some kind of spontaneous excitement or attraction that the strikes themselves could create. It is an assumption that we want to be organised together, because we see a historical political commitment, which exists not independent from class struggle, but from its ups and downs. A commitment that maintains that even in a defensive phase of class struggle the political elements within the class can find and prepare themselves. These are no static ideological insights; they are only sharpened and rekindled by revisiting historical struggles or current international movement that contain a revolutionary spark.
* Commitment as a militant who believes in collective work and the historical role of the working class (Motivation)
At the same time, the motivation and commitment cannot be conflated with belief. We might believe that we represent or act in accordance with the historical mission of a revolutionary militant, but this will deflate quickly if we feel that we have nothing to say and contribute to actual struggle. As a militant, you might muster enough discipline to get up early in the morning and travel to a strike on your day off, but you only do this so many times if you feel that you have nothing to say. Motivation is not detached from clarity and concrete strategy. But initially it is not even about holding speeches, but about asking the right questions. You will only be able to ask pertinent questions if you have either relevant working class experience yourself or talked to many people on strike before or read about relevant strikes and their ins and outs.
* Schooling either through working class experience or study of workers’ struggles (Knowledge)
But even the most clued up militants will not really make a difference if they don’t function as a bridge, a proletarian match-maker between workers in struggle. No one should be too interested or impressed by what individual big heads have to say, if they don’t help to create relations to real and concrete experiences of other workers. In order to get into this position we have to make an initial leap. We cannot play this function if we don’t have any contacts with other militant workers. This requires a conscious effort to promote the initial experiences, e.g. in our case the insights we gathered during the strikes at Tower Hamlet Council and Heathrow Airport. A clear analysis of these strikes, a clear description of their strength and weaknesses, a clear conclusion has to be put forward in written, spoken or whatever form in order to attract those workers who are sick of being spoon-fed official trade union propaganda. A collective would have to pass through this initial desert, re-motivate themselves, e.g. by exchange with comrades abroad, who are a few steps ahead.
* Useful and insightful analysis of recent struggles and relevant contacts to share / A short-term, medium-term and long-term plan (Perspective)
In a way, various groups on the left engage in this type of activity, perhaps not critical of the unions in general, but perhaps of the ‘trade union leadership’. What seems really difficult is to discuss the tendencies within these strikes and the wider social situation strategically – from a communist perspective. The left tends to try and formally unite different strikes under general demands externally, e.g. by demanding a legal stop of ‘fire and re-hire’ or by asking the TUC to call for the elusive general strike. The main challenge is to read the strikes politically based on both their inner tendencies and the wider contradictions. In the introduction to the text on ‘post-Brexit’ developments, some of these possible tendencies are mentioned: how do the workers on strike relate their struggle and the way it is organised to the experience of primitive ‘workers’ control’ during the initial phase of covid? How do they relate the fact that their bosses want to enforce ‘fire and re-hire’ to both the wider temporary shortage of labour and the social debate about ‘essential labour’ (‘why work longer hours, if only 30% of workers engage in essential labour?’); Can they relate their struggle to the weak position that the bosses and the political class is in, e.g. the fact that the capitalists have lost control over their global supply-chains and the political class can’t coordinate between the different social actors when it concerned the pandemic (science sector, pharma industry, trading partners, health institutions etc.)?; Could their strike sharpen the contradiction of the current automation talk, first as a paper-tiger (‘the capitalists don’t dare to invest, they haven’t in a long time’) and as a potential (‘why should we be scared of automation, because we would not accept job cuts’)? Or do they fall for the ‘poor workers, boohoo’propaganda of the official labour movement? Which current strikes have already found answers to questions that other strikes still ask themselves, both in form and content?
* Development of strategic and programmatic analysis of current struggles (Clarity)
These are the embryonic steps to formulate a communist program, as a practical program of how to organise the strikes in a way that they develop material power, that they break out of the isolation etc. and as a strategic program that relates the elements of self-organisations to the wider question of social power. Only the strongest strikes can set new standards for a cycle of struggle, e.g. if workers of a significant workplace would react to ‘fire and re-hire’ by occupying their workplace and a clear message: “We all work, we all work less, we don’t accept wage cuts, we question what and how we have produced so far, we don’t want to manage our company, but want to support other workers in struggle and provide a focus for them”. We cannot produce such a situation, but we can help push all tendencies that lead towards such a catalyst. This type of strategic thinking is utterly underdeveloped, in particular in the UK. In this sense we might have to plan future reading sessions and re-visit some of the texts by comrades from the Italian experience in the 1960s and 1970s.
In order to do this work we need a dozen trained and committed comrades as a core. The question is, if we go through the goals and requirements listed above, what do we think is lacking? To which extent do we think it is still the lockdown, still the lull, still the lacklustre struggles that hold us back – and to which extent have we not focused our work enough?