We could just repeat what we said when we looked back on 2020 – what an utter shit storm it was! Honestly, it was a bit of a drag to get through this year, both as individual lonely comrades and as a group that wants to meet in the flesh and get down to things. We tried our best to hold ourselves together, discussed quite a lot amongst ourselves and with comrades abroad, which is reflected in various articles on the blog. But let’s start with the few practical efforts amongst fellow workers that we engaged in this year.
- Heathrow Workers’ Solidarity
We had comrades working at Heathrow and knew a few workers from our west-London activities, so we were not in the worst position when the ‘fire and re-hire’ dispute started. We talked to people on the picket-lines and summarised some of the conversations and our own take on the strike in a newsletter that we circulated. From then on we maintained a workers’ blog and gathered people for a solidarity network around the airport. The strike itself was weak, we reflected on the BA Cargo strike, which could have tipped the balance. If you want to read less, you can listen to the podcast we did on the strike. We also had a great online meeting with workers from Alitalia, whose fight-back was more offensive than the one here in the UK. You can read a summary of the meeting in the latest issue of the newsletter. If you live locally, please get in touch, we’ve got things planned on the ground.
- Health Workers’ Initiative
Some of us have been working in the NHS for more than a decade, others started working in a bigger hospital this year. With the NHS pay dispute looming we thought of gathering other comrades and fellow workers who work in the sector. We translated stuff about health workers struggles abroad or in the past to get a discussion going. We had regular online meetings, amongst others with a fellow nurse who was in the process of getting a strike off the ground in Chicago. We produced a health workers newsletter for distribution in various NHS trusts and an online blog for updates. On the local level we got engaged on a trade union branch level, though there is not much happening. We started to organise a mass collective grievance with fellow healthcare apprentices. There are over 500 of us, working on minimum wage and with a poor apprenticeship scheme, but up until now, they were working relatively isolated across all the wards. We managed to get around 40 people starting to talk to each other and complained to management. The trust offered £250 in Amazon vouchers to calm things down, but we refused. If you work in the sector, get in touch, we are in the process of writing a balance sheet of the failed national pay campaign and have a meeting lined up with comrades of the health workers’ and patients’ assembly in Athens.
- Local groups
Otherwise we had a hard time trying to set up local groups. Our comrades around Croydon Solidarity wrote a great text describing some of the difficulties. We have a meeting in Bristol coming up soon to get a collective going, drop us a line if you’re around. On a more individual level, comrades were involved in a major dispute in higher education in Liverpool and wrote a detailed reflection.
These were pretty much the practical things we got engaged in. But then keeping a collective discussion going and producing material for the wider working class political milieu is probably also some kind of practice. After our last meeting in Sheffield we will have more face to face meetings in the new year, you are welcome to get involved!
- Reading group
One of the regular collective practices during the year was to discuss some fundamental texts together. We have shared notes from some of these meetings, for example on Victor Serge’s ‘Memoirs of a Revolutionary’, on Zoe Baker’s text ‘Means and Ends’ and on Lenin’s ‘State and Revolution’. We will continue the reading group in the new year, if you want to join in, let us know!
- The Covid crisis
Unsurprisingly we felt the need to understand the situation of the pandemic and crisis. In 2020 we had already interviewed a few dozen fellow workers about how the pandemic changed the power dynamics at work. In early 2021 we published a summary of these interviews. We used them for a more general political pamphlet on the Covid crisis, which we tried to circulate widely. Given the global character of the pandemic, we asked comrades in Argentina, Brazil, India and Australia to report on their local situation. Later during the year we tried to grasp the emerging struggles against the lockdown and translated articles about the ‘no vax’ movement and the ‘No Green Pass’ protests in Italy. One of us also wrote a reflection after participating in a demonstration against enforced vaccination in Hamburg.
- Situation in the UK
In the UK it was difficult to disentangle the impact of the Covid pandemic, the wider global supply-chain crisis and Brexit. We wrote a general report at the beginning and towards the end of the year, for our own debate and for the exchange with comrades abroad. In the meantime, we also wrote a substantial piece on the current situation in Northern Ireland and a shorter commentary on the question of ‘progressive patriotism’ on the left, which became rampant during the football EM.
- The supply-chain crisis
As we’ve said, during 2021, various factors culminated in a global crunch that overwhelmed global supply-chains. We think Sergio Bologna did a good job in summarising some of these factors in a text that we translated. Similarly fascinating is this interview on the micro-chip shortage, which describes the rather labour and resource intensive and hyper-concentrated production process. These things are not abstract, they impact on many situations, amongst others, the reality on the shop-floor in a local camper van factory where a comrade works. The most precarious links in the supply-chain are the workers themselves: if we get fed up, things go pear-shaped. We therefore try to keep our eyes peeled when it comes to struggles in the logistics sector and translated this comprehensive article on mobilisations at Amazon. As everywhere, the question is not if workers at Amazon can get organised, but how. Here we documented the experience of self-organisation in Chicago and commented on the failed trade union organising in Bessemer. These latter two conflicts don’t take place in a vacuum. To understand them better you can read this general assessment of the situation in the US.
- The climate crisis
In Glasgow, in the autumn of this clammy year, some big-wigs exchanged tepid air about the climate crisis. We felt inspired to write a general article on the issue ourselves and followed it up with further thoughts. Comrades from Australia provided us with a detailed historical account of construction workers who not only fought for their own interests as workers, but opposed construction projects, which they deemed harmful for working class people and the wider environment.
- International struggles
“If there is hope it lies in the proles”, and their global struggles. With the help of friends abroad we were able to gather a heap of good articles on international struggles of our class: from metal workers on strike in Cadiz, to dock workers in Genoa, who not only like good food, but also refuse to unload ships carrying arms for the global imperialist bloodbath. From workers at IKEA and GKN in Italy who oppose casual contracts and factory closure to working class communities in Namibia who oppose the neoliberal sell-off of water by former ‘anti-colonial liberators’. We learned from comrades in India who reflected on 45 years of political practice and from female car workers who went on wildcat strike nearby, which we also discussed in an online meeting with friends in Delhi. We had a series of articles on current struggles in Iran, from protests in Khuzestan to oil workers strikes. Delivery workers in Brazil showed us the way. Last, but not least, we documented a strike of agricultural workers in Spain and tried to mobilise local support.
- The national question
In many regions of the globe class struggle is over-layered or undermined by national disputes, as part of a global hierarchical system of nation states. We wrote a short piece on the Israel – Palestine conflict, which got us a fair amount of flak. We emphasised that to fight the oppression of the Israeli state in national terms is a dead-end and that the recent class movements in the Middle-East have largely broken with their middle-class sectarian, religious or national leaders. These leaders, from the regime in Iran to Hezbollah to the Muslim Brotherhood try to re-establish their leadership by, amongst other things, presenting themselves as the ‘true supporters’ of the ‘Palestinian cause’. We dug deeper into history and discussed the problem of the ‘national question’ on the basis of some of our own experiences with the anti-Apartheid struggle in South Africa and the problematic role of the ANC.
- The question of organisation and the left
This raises of course the wider question of who we are in relation to both the working class and ‘the left’. A comrade formulated some general thoughts about the ‘revolutionary minority’, which nudged another friend to reply. Fellow travellers in India send us some reflections on the problematic role of leftists in relation to local working class struggles, while comrades in Australia wrote on the limitations of ‘mutual aid’ as a revolutionary cornerstone. For the wider debate we edited a very substantial and comprehensive text on ‘Operaismo’, a revolutionary current in Italy in the 1960s and 1970s, which introduces the concepts of workers’ inquiry and class composition as oppositions to the usual leftist preaching and leadership contests. We really recommend reading it! We also produced a short podcast on ‘workers’ inquiry’, if you are more of a listener. For our internal discussion a comrade wrote, ‘What does it take to be organised politically?’, which confronts our collective efforts with the current strikes. Last, but not least, you can find an introduction to no.107 of the German magazine Wildcat on the blog, with thoughts on collective political work.
- Historical examples of workers’ autonomy
Particular in social vacuum years such as 2021, it is important to time travel and re-visit some historical sites of class struggle. One of the highlights in terms of texts we produced last year is this write-up of a comrade who participated in an aircraft factory occupation in the UK in 1974. This is not about melancholic reminiscence, but about looking at what made it possible to take such actions back then and what limited these actions and allowed the class enemy to get the upper hand again. One of us translated a text about the 1973 wildcat strike at Ford Cologne, the so-called ’Turk strike’, partly in order to atone for the sins of his grandfather, who, as a Ford worker in Cologne, stood on the wrong side of the barricade back then. In terms of historical lessons we want to emphasise the significance of the so-called ‘political workers committees’ in Italy in the 1970s, as they remain largely unknown or hidden behind the autonomist Negri or armed struggle hype. Have a look at the review of the book on the workers’ committees at Magneti Marelli, it’s worth it.
- Value, capital and class
Provoked by a talk by Michael Heinrich on ‘value form analysis’ and its practical implications one of us took the time to write down some thoughts. While Heinrich is seen by many comrades as ‘the best introduction to Marx’, some of us thought it’s pretty shocking that he basically reduces workers’ struggle to an economic factor within the market relation. He might have had various disagreements with other prominent representatives of the German ‘value critique’, but they have this reduction of workers’ struggle to ‘trade union struggle’ in common.
- Interview and preface to the German edition of ‘Class Power on Zero-Hours’
We had a pretty good interview with comrades from The Commoner about our political efforts in west London and our wider ideas about how to re-constitute working class autonomy. You can find an update on this, taking into account more of what happened in 2021, in our preface to the German translation of ‘Class Power on Zero-Hours’, which will be published in the new year. We are also stoked that comrades have translated our text ‘Insurrection and Production’ into Spanish. Muchas gracias, caramba!
- Cultural revolution
We watched a fair amount of films in 2021! A comrade wrote a review of ‘Dear Comrades’, by Andrei Konchalosky, on the massacre of striking workers in Novocherkassk in 1962. Another comrade watched ‘Promising Young Woman’ and ‘Two Distant Strangers’ and formulated thoughts on the question of abuse, victimhood and the question of collective resistance. We also watched football and pondered on the commercial and the potentially subversive elements in fan culture. A comrade took part in an event on Tressell’s ‘Ragged Trousered Philanthropists’ and wrote down some notes.
- Daily dose of class hatred
Of course, at the beginning and end of it all hovers the anger. We introduced a new category on the blog this year, basically short rants about things that piss us off, make us sad and mad. From how management treats sick fellow workers, to how workmates smother their anger in chocolate and love. We got enraged by how seafaring workers were fucked over during the pandemic and how borders kill our fellow sisters and brothers every day. We shared a sad experience of a prisoner dying on our hospital ward.
In 2022, don’t be angry alone!