Early New Zealand anarchism

Jared Davidson, Sewing Freedom: Phillip Josephs, Trans-nationalism & Early New Zealand Anarchism. AK Press, 2013.

Review by Graham Purchase

I knew nothing about the development of anarchism in New Zealand before reading this well-researched and ably produced study. Sewing Freedom is a brief, readable and informative piece of anarchist historical scholarship examining movements, organizations and personalities active at the cusp of the 20th Century.

The book is nominally an account of the life of Josephs, who, from his little tailor’s shop, organized the distribution of anarchist literature he imported wholesale from London and America. Josephs was an anarchist of the category perhaps best described as the Kropotkinite-Freedom Group (London) tradition.

Josephs migrated to Glasgow from Latvia in 1897. There he married a cigarette-factory worker, fathered four children and toiled as a sweatshop machinist before moving to Wellington in 1904. In Wellington, he set up as a self-employed tailor-cum-anarchist bookseller, becoming involved in local revolutionary and anti-capitalist groupings, particularly the N.Z. Socialist Party, then a broad-based organization attracting many syndicalists. Activities focused around Socialist Hall, where lectures on such topics as socialist economics were delivered. Josephs contributed articles to the Commonweal and the Maoriland Worker, newspapers published by the NZSP and the Federation of Labor.

Strikes were illegal under an obsolete and bankrupt arbitration system, whose courts invariably favored employers despite low wages and increasing living costs. The first challenge to the arbitration system was an illegal strike by tram workers in 1906, followed by slaughtermen and miners (the Blackbull strike), culminating in the General Strike of 1913. The ‘Red-Fed’ (Federation of Labor) was an I.W.W. affiliate and the most revolutionary. The Federation split with the N.Z. Socialist Party because its members rejected parliamentary politics and trades unionism in favor of direct workers’ action. The syndicalist surge within the class struggles of 1908-13 was bolstered by a stream of noted revolutionaries and labor leaders who stepped off the ship and onto the soapbox. Transnational radical tourism created a melting pot of ideas which spawned a minority movement of anarcho-syndicalists within a radicalized and militant labor movement.

War legislation was used extensively to stymie revolutionary syndicalism, and a state-sponsored campaign against Wobbly-anarchist-socialism continued after the conclusion of the Great War. Fascination with Bolshevism after the Russian Revolution (1917) and the founding of the N.Z. Labor Party in 1916 corresponded with a decline in revolutionary syndicalism.

Josephs migrated to Australia in 1921, and little is known about his life thereafter. In truth not much is known about his life in New Zealand, either. But his life usefully serves as an anchor upon which to elaborate a modest but extremely cogent account of early anarchism and syndicalism and its relationship with the wider labor movement in New Zealand.

Shutting down the government

The recent U.S. government shut-down and the budget deal to avert a new one make it clear whose interests it serves. Long-term unemployment benefits were allowed to expire in the budget deal, leaving millions of workers without any form of sustenance. (Now the Democrats are making a show of trying to reinstate the benefits, but had they really cared about the jobless they would have used the leverage the budget impasse offered.) Corporate tax loopholes were left untouched, and food stamps avoided another round of cuts only because the polytricksters can not agree on how deep those cuts should be.* (At present, the program is generous enough that most recipients make it into the third week of the month before running out of food and turning to the soup kitchens to survive, so the need for cuts is obvious to all.)

During the shutdown, health and safety inspections of workplaces stopped, as did oversight of polluters. Museums, art galleries and public parks were closed. No one answered the phones at agencies charged with “enforcing” workers’ rights. But the border guards were out in full force, making sure none of our fellow workers crossed the borders money flows across so freely. The military continued its operations. No one was released from prison, not even those the administration concedes are victims of unfair treatment in the war on drugs. Whistleblowers like Private Manning were not set free; the persecution of those accused of lifting the curtain on the government’s secrets did not stop.

We can see what is important to the bosses in the list of essential “services” continued during the government shutdown, and in the list of those shuttered.

Even more telling was the pundits’ bleating. The government shutdown was not so bad, they said. We can get by just fine without parks and art, without labor rights and the like. What really matters – and on this the pundits were unanimous – is that Republicans back down on their threat to not lift the debt ceiling.

If they didn’t, horror of horrors, the government might go into technical default. The bankers would not receive their money on time! Financial markets would rebel! Catastrophe would ensue!

One can almost see the platoons of bankers, decked out in three piece suits, fountain pens in hand, parachuting in from their global tax havens to occupy Washington DC and set things right. Money must prevail! Debts must be paid!

They really don’t go to all that much trouble to conceal who’s in charge, and whose interests really matter.

*After we went to press, a deal was struck to slash food stamps by a “modest” $8 billion; the boss press and pundits hailed this bipartisan compromise, and expressed their fervent  hope that it presages more of the same.

International Solidarity Actions Hit Santander Bank

by John Kalwaic

On Oct. 1 and Dec. 12, the International Workers Association (AIT) organized international days of action against Santander Bank in solidarity with information technology workers facing casualization and retaliation for union activity.

Despite being highly profitable, the Santander Group (which bought U.S.-based Sovereign Bank in 2008, in the depths of the financial crisis using funds it pulled out of land speculation in Spain just before the bubble burst) has been slashing payrolls and outsourcing operations around the world. In order to evade Spanish laws providing protections for permanent workers, Santander’s information technology services subsidiary, ISBAN, is in the forefront of transforming thousands of what should be decent jobs into ill-paid temporary jobs. In August 2013, workers organized in the National Confederation of Labor (CNT-AIT) protested this outsourcing; ISBAN responded by firing the union delegate (as a “temporary” worker, technically he was merely returned to the employment agency that supplied him, Panel Sistemas), sending a clear message to Santander workers that they risk their jobs if they demand their rights as workers.

The historic international anarcho-syndicalist federation, the IWA-AIT, which includes labor unions as well as other groups, responded with demonstrations around the world. The COB in Brazil handed out flyers in Aracajú and Araxá. In Philadelphia, syndicalists leafleted a Santander branch across from City Hall. The Polish ZSP demonstrated in Warsaw where Santander is trying to expand. In Uruguay the anarcho-syndicalists of Montevideo visited the headquarters of Santander Bank for an informational picket.

The Portuguese section of the IWA-AIT organized pickets in Lisbon and Oporto. In Norway the NSF picketed in Oslo. In the UK the Solidarity Federation held informational pickets in Brighton and Hove. The FAU in Germany picketed in Koln. And of course there were protests across Spain.

Where there were no Santander branches, groups such as the KRAS in Russia and the PA in Slovakia demonstrated against affiliated companies such as Isban and Panel Sistemas.

The dismissed CNT delegate made a symbolic gesture of thanks for this solidarity by putting up a banner in English in his current workplace, Panel Sistemas.

Are the Republicans Anarchists?

We Respond to a Fund-Raising Email from Senator Elizabeth Warren 

Dear J*,

If you watch the anarchist tirades coming from extremist Republicans in the House, you’d think they believe that the government that governs best is a government that doesn’t exist at all.

But behind all the slogans of the Tea Party – and all the thinly veiled calls for anarchy in Washington – is a reality: The American people don’t want a future without government.

When was the last time the anarchy gang called for regulators to go easier on companies that put lead in children’s toys? Or for inspectors to stop checking whether the meat in our grocery stores is crawling with deadly bacteria? Or for the FDA to ignore whether morning sickness drugs will cause horrible deformities in our babies?

When? Never. In fact, whenever the anarchists make any headway in their quest and cause damage to our government, the opposite happens.

After the sequester kicked in, Republicans immediately turned around and called on us to protect funding for our national defense and to keep our air traffic controllers on the job.

And now that the House Republicans have shut down the government – holding the country hostage because of some imaginary government “health care bogeyman” – Republicans almost immediately turned around and called on us to start reopening parts of our government.

Why do they do this? Because the bogeyman government in the alternate universe of their fiery political speeches isn’t real. It doesn’t exist.

Government is real, and it has three basic functions:

Provide for the national defense.

Put rules in place rules, like traffic lights and bank regulations, that are fair and transparent.

Build the things together that none of us can build alone – roads, schools, power grids – the things that give everyone a chance to succeed.

These things did not appear by magic. In each instance, we made a choice as a people to come together. We made that choice because we wanted to be a country with a foundation that would allow anyone to have a chance to succeed.

The Food and Drug Administration makes sure that the white pills we take are antibiotics and not baking soda. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration oversees crash tests to make sure our new cars have functioning brakes. The Consumer Product Safety Commission makes sure that babies’ car seats don’t collapse in a crash and that toasters don’t explode.

We are alive, we are healthier, we are stronger because of government. Alive, healthier, stronger because of what we did together.

We are not a country of anarchists. We are not a country of pessimists and ideologues whose motto is, “I’ve got mine, the rest of you are on your own.” We are not a country that tolerates dangerous drugs, unsafe meat, dirty air, or toxic mortgages.

We are not that nation. We have never been that nation. And we never will be that nation.

The political minority in the House that condemns government and begged for this shutdown has its day. But like all the reckless and extremist factions that have come before it, its day will pass – and the government will get back to the work we have chosen to do together.

Thank you for being a part of this,

Elizabeth Warren


Thank you for your letter, but it is confusing. Do you really consider your Republican counterparts in the House of Representatives to be “anarchists”? What leads you to believe that?

According to you an anarchist believes government is not necessary and wants to get rid of it. Is this what the Republican Party truly believes? According to you government has three basic functions: national defense, putting rules in place that are “fair and transparent”, and building things that we all need but cannot provide for ourselves. How can anybody be against that?

Certainly the Republican Party is not opposed to “national defense.” During the previous Republican Administration they were so much in favor of national defense they felt the need to defend the streets of Baghdad from Al-Qaeda, even though there were no members of Al-Qaeda to be seen anywhere in Iraq. Of course, the members of your Party, the Democratic Party, were no slouches when it came to national defense and voted to give Bush and Cheney the authority to invade that country. Good for you, you Democrats. 

As you point out the Republicans have always been in favor of funding for bombs, the military, and any old thing the Pentagon wants. During the latest round of government defunding, they made sure that the troops would still get paid. After all, we can’t expect them to be in Afghanistan, Gitmo or other parts of our country being shot at without getting paid for it. If they stopped getting paid, the soldiers might get it into their heads to go home to their families. Not to mention those “defense” contractors that can always count on getting paid. So does paying the military make the Republicans “anarchists”? Certainly not.

That brings us to rules, especially rules that are “fair and transparent.” As you told us during the last election, many of us ordinary citizens have come to suspect “the system is rigged.” I thought you were right about that one. The electoral system is rigged. The political system is rigged. Certainly the economic system is rigged, which is why so many of us are either out of work or just struggling to get by.

The question we anarchists have is “do the rules that come from the Senate, Congress, or any of the various states really do away with rigging the system, or are they part of what makes the system unfair”? It is true that the deregulation of the financial sector played a big role in making the system less fair and less transparent, but is that all the Republicans’ fault? Seems to me that Bill Clinton and the Democrats played a big role in that, so is Bill Clinton an anarchist too? 

As for that transparency thing, there are a couple guys named Manning and Snowden who would probably tell you that President Obama is no more interested in transparency than his Republican predecessors. Are you getting all this down, NSA? 

I could go on and on about this law or that law that makes life in this country less fair. I don’t know that the Republicans are against these laws. Vaginal probes anyone? 

And not that I have ever placed much faith in the electoral system, but how are those Republican voter I.D. laws working out for those of you who do? I remember when the U.S. military held the first elections in Iraq, all the Iraqis had to do was present their fingers to show they had no ink stains on them and our occupying military let them stick their finger in a bottle of ink and vote. Kind of simple wasn’t it? Maybe that’s how the majority ended up in power there (not that any government really operates according to majority rule). Good thing there weren’t any Green Party candidates over there trying to get on the ballot.

Finally you say the anarchists are against building things together that we all need but can’t build by ourselves and that it takes government to do that. Well, I admit the Republicans have been pretty stingy lately. But is either one of your propositions true, are Republicans against building stuff and does that make them anarchists? What about the Keystone Pipeline? The Republicans want to build that. That is pretty much a bipartisan issue. A lot of members of your party want to build that too. 

On the other hand anarchists like roads, especially railroads and mass transit systems and other transportation that is more sustainable. We haven’t seen much a an effort by either the Republicans or Democrats to do that, so it may not be so much a question of building stuff but what your priorities are that makes you an anarchist.

So just to clue you in, there is a difference between the Republicans and the anarchists. True, we have both been known to rant about “the government,” but the difference between Republicans or Tea Baggers or the followers of Ayn Rand is that anarchists want liberty … and equality. Because we know that you can’t have one without the other. Equality in civil liberties. Equality in economic power. Equality in treatment regardless of what family you come from, or how you want to live your life. Liberty without equality is a political fiction.

Republicans don’t want liberty and equality, but neither do the Democrats. Your Party is just as much to blame for the globalization and financialization of the economy that have replaced the old forms of capitalist exploitation with new ones based on low wages and lifetime financial debt. If given the choice between your Party and the Republicans, and a real alternative, many would choose to have neither one of you. So you and your counterparts on the other side of the aisle continue to play Americans against each other. Don’t blame anarchists for the failings of your economic and political system. 


The Anarchists

ASR 61

asr61coverWinter 2014

3  Editorials: Work Until You Drop

4  Are the Republicans Anarchists? A Reply to Sen. Warren

5  Wobbles: Shutting Down the Government, Subsidizing Poverty Wages, High-Tech Sweatshops, There is a Limit

6  Syndicalist News: Spanish CNT Fights Pension “Reform,” Low-Wage Workers’ Rebellion Spreads, USI General Strike, Bangladeshi Garment Workers, Independent Truckers Strike, Wobbly News…  Compiled by Mike Hargis

9  Solidarity Actions Hit Santander Bank  by John Kalwaic

9  Report from IWA’s 25th Congress in Valencia

11  Articles: Speech to Metalworkers: Anarcho-Syndicalism for South African Unions Today  by Lucien van der Walt

21  Workers’ Self-Directed Enterprises: A Revolutionary Program  by Wayne Price

25  Anarchist Economics  by Iain McKay

29  For Cyber Syndicalism  by Jeff Shantz

31  Victor Serge: The Worst of the Anarchists  by Iain McKay

39  Reviews: Prosperity Through Self-Management  Review essay by Brian Martin

44  The Irrational in Economics  Review essay by Jeff Stein

47  Anarchist Solidarity with the Palestinian Struggle  Review by Steve Kellerman

48  Early New Zealand Anarchism  Review by Graham Purchase

48  Kropotkin for Beginners  Review essay By Graham Purchase

50  Taking Proudhon Seriously  Review essay by Iain McKay





Two Conceptions of Unionism

by Jon Bekken, ASR 21

The ongoing struggle to unionize the giant U.S. bookstore chain, Borders Books (operating under the Borders, Brentano’s, Planet Music and Waldenbooks names), illustrates two utterly incompatible ideas of unionism. While the United Food & Commercial Workers holds to the AFL-CIO model of business unionism — seeing the union as a social service agency, relying on a professional staff to ‘service’ workers who buy its services through payroll deductions — the Industrial Workers of the World adheres to a more traditional model of unionism, one which sees the union as a body of workers coming together to gain through their collective action the better conditions they can not hope to win alone. Under this model, which has long since been abandoned by the vast majority of labor organizations, a union does not rely on government certification or Labor Relations Board proceedings. Rather, unions rely upon workers’ own power, recognizing that government “protections” are at best a means of compensating workers long after the fact for the violation of their most basic rights — when after the union itself has been crushed. (More often, they serve to frustrate workers’ efforts, and to divert them into endless bureaucratic channels.)

Unfortunately many workers have fallen for aspects of business unionism, even within revolutionary unions such as the IWW. Thus, Wobblies at one retail outlet in the San Francisco area recently decided that while their fellow workers were ready for a union, it would be too difficult to win a majority to the IWW. So instead they formed an organizing committee of IWW members and tried to organize their fellow workers into the UFCW. (Bay area Wobblies have also mounted several organizing campaigns in their own right in recent years, including an ongoing campaign at the giant Wherehouse Entertainment music and video chain.) Leaving aside the fact that the UFCW is a particularly disgusting example of business unionism with a long history of selling out its members and signing sweetheart contracts with the bosses (it is so ineffective at defending its members’ interests that the first pay hike tens of thousands of UFCW members saw in recent years came with the recent increase in the federal minimum wage), such tactics are incompatible with basic union principles. (They are also ineffective; UFCW bureaucrats and the Wobbly committee inevitably dashed on strategy and the drive was defeated.) For these tactics are based on a faulty premise — that a union exists by virtue of government certification.

The result of such mistaken premises are disoranizing campaigns urging workers to vote for union “representation,” meanwhile setting their grievances aside until their representatives are certified to deal with them. When, as in this case, the election is lost workers are left defenseless (ideologically and organizationally) against the bosses. Yet in this workplace there were several Wobblies committed. to fighting for better conditions. Had they had the courage of their Wobbly convictions, they could have established an IWW branch on the job and begun mobilizing their fellow workers to fight for better conditions. At first they would have been a small minority, of course, but as they agitated and organized they could have established a living, breathing, fighting union presence on the job — one much stronger because it was based upon the workers themselves, rather than a scrap of paper from the government or a bunch of high-paid bureaucrats in an office across town.

In contrast, the IWW drive at Borders culminated years of IWW organizing efforts among low-paid service, educational and retail workers in Philadelphia. And at least some Borders workers turned to the IWW precisely because of its broader social vision. But the Borders campaign, too, was afflicted by symptoms of business unionism. Although this drive was conducted under IWW auspices, Philadelphia Wobs sought the “easy” road of government certification eventually trimming their sails in a desperate scramble to hold on to a majority of voters as managers chipped away at their initial majority with threats and promises. They narrowly lost that vote and, barred from from going back to the National Labor Relations Board for another year and without any apparent realization that the 20 workers (of 45) who had voted for the IWW could act as a union regardless of government certification, the workers lapsed into depressed apathy.

Management seized on the situation to crush not only that drive, but also fledgling IWW efforts at other Borders stores across the country. Suspected union supporters were interrogated, threatened and harassed and on June 15, 1996, Borders fired Miriam Fried, one of the most active Wobblies in the Philadelphia store.

By then, most Wobblies in that store had despaired. Some were looking for other jobs, others turned to the UFCW. When FW Fried was fired there was no organized reaction from the Wobblies on the job. But an IWW organizer who had been working with the Borders drive put out word of the firing over the internet and it was quickly picked up by Wobs. On June 17th, two members of the Boston IWW Branch entered the downtown Boston Borders and demanded to speak to the manager. When she insisted that Borders’ firing of a worker for supporting the union was none of her concern Wobblies set up a picket line in front of the store and began leafletting customers and passersby. Picketing continues to this day, and has been taken up by Wobblies at dozens of Borders outlets across the country (including in Philadelphia).

While the UFCW responded to the firing by promising to file a piece of paper with the government begging it to protect workers’ rights to organize, the IWW responded with direct action — hitting the bosses where it hurt. There is no evidence that the paperwork has had any effect on Borders, but Borders managers have been frantically working the phone lines and spreading corporate disinformation to counter the IWW’s efforts. Far from defending workers’ rights against Borders’ flagrant imtimidation the UFCW has asked Wobblies to take down the picket lines in several cities, and has even taken to calling people and urging them to cross the picketlines and patronize the union busters.

Nearly 40 Borders stores from Portland, Maine, to Los Angeles, and from Miami, Florida, to Tacoma, Washington, were picketed December 14th and 15th in a national protest to increase the pressure on the chain Tens of thousands of leaflets have been distributed to Borders customers informing them of the dispute. Sales reports since the campaign began show that Borders is losing ground to rival Barnes & Noble.

Whether or not the campaign is able to build an IWW presence at Borders or get Miriam Fried her job back, it has shown that the IWW’s relatively small membership is fully capable of mounting a solidarity campaign that puts much larger unions to shame. Within a few days of the firing, IWW members were sharing leaflets on the internet, creating web pages about the dispute, picketing Borders stores across the country, and putting the company on notice that it could not act against workers with impunity. While it continues to threaten and intimidate workers, Borders has not fired any union activists since the campaign began and has retracted and apologized for a warning issued to another IWW supporter for discussing working conditions and the need for a union with her fellow workers. Workers across the country have seen evidence that the IWW is still fighting the bosses.

The campaign has provided a nationally visible focus for IWW activities – the first time in many years that the IWW has organized around a common project. In the early stages of the campaign, an IWW member was quoted by a newspaper saying that the IWW was too small to take on a national campaign and so would have to defer to the UFCW. But while a few IWW members have followed that defeatist logic, more have recognized that numbers only count if they are mobilized; that a huge membership disorganized into a business union can not begin to match what can be accomplished by a genuine union, one which turns to its members to act for themselves in accordance with that venerable principle, An Injury to One Is An Injury to All.

The American Health Care Crisis: Capitalism

by Jon Bekken, ASR 16

No country in the world spends as much on health care as the United States, or gets as little for its money. In 1992, fully 14 percent of U.S. Gross Domestic Product (about $2,700 per person per year — though by no means do all people receive health care) was spent on health care, and yet a recent study of seven industrialized countries found the U.S. dead last in basic health indicators. We have fewer doctors per capita, higher infant mortality, and shorter lives. And nearly 100 million people went without any health insurance for part or all of the year. Surveys find that people are quite worried about their access to health care — two-thirds fear they couldn’t afford long-term care, and almost half worry that they couldn’t finance a major illness. The crisis is particularly severe for the unemployed and for those in low-paying jobs — precisely those in the worst position to cover medical expenses, and the most likely to get ill.

The costs of operating this for-profit health system are rising sharply, far ahead of the inflation rate. Much of this spending does not go into treatment–about one out of eight dollars spent by the health insurance companies goes to administrative costs, nearly ten times what it costs Canada’s nationalized system (the world’s second most expensive) for paperwork. U.S. doctors are better paid than their counterparts in other countries, drug costs are higher, and insurance and hospital profits are soaring. Only people’s health lags behind.

As costs rise, insurance companies get pickier about whom they’ll cover, and make workers pay a growing share of health care costs through higher deductibles, rising premiums, co-payments, and reduced coverage. Insurers avoid entire industries as too risky, and refuse to insure people who get sick. Similarly, HMOs avoid rural areas and economically depressed inner cities where it is more expensive to provide care and where people are more likely to need medical treatment. And growing numbers of employers reserve the right to cancel workers’ health insurance if their treatment gets too expensive (or threatens to).

The health care industry has proven incapable of providing even basic medical services to most people, but it has been one of the few economic sectors to create new jobs even during the current recession. The health business added 3 million new jobs between 1980 and 1991, according to the November 1992 Monthly Labor Review, and health care wages grew at 6 times the national average (though this is in part the result of low-paid service workers unionizing and demanding a living wage). Employment in health insurance offices led the pack as thousands of auditors and other paper pushers were hired in a desperate attempt to take charge of escalating costs by close monitoring of health care providers.

Capitalism Cannot Work

Even the capitalists are forced to admit that the healthcare marketplace simply does not work. As corporations have found themselves paying ever-escalating insurance premiums, the country’s largest corporations have joined the call for health care reform. A front-page article in the New York Times termed health care an “economic outlaw,” because medical insurance served to insulate consumers from rising costs. “Americans have every incentive to seek additional medical care, even if the benefit they stand to gain is modest compared with the total cost…” (The extent to which this is true is quite limited. Not only are many people excluded from health care because they have inadequate or no coverage, but for several years employers have been pushing an ever-increasing share of expenses onto workers.) Nor does the alleged “invisible hand of the market” function — sick people are in no position to shop around for a better deal and rarely have the expertise to evaluate the quality or necessity of their treatment.

Indeed, capitalism inexorably lead to higher costs. Doctors and hospitals create their own demand for services: the more hospital beds there are in a community, the more doctors put patients in hospitals and the longer hospitals keep them there; the more surgeons in a community, the more operations are performed to support them. One study found that doctors who perform their own radiological tests prescribe such tests at least four times as often and charge higher fees than did doctors who referred patients to radiologists. Drug companies charge high prices for prescription drugs to finance costly advertising campaigns to persuade doctors to prescribe their brand-name drugs rather than cheaper generic equivalents. Hospitals buy the latest equipment, regardless of whether it’s needed, simply to keep up with the competition — and then charge high prices to make up for the fact that it is hardly ever used. And as hospital admissions decline and average hospital stays shortened, the number of employees on hospital payrolls (largely administrators and book-keepers) soared. Between 1970 and 1989 the number of health care administrators in the U.S. increased nearly six-fold, while growing numbers of hospital beds lie empty. As doctors David Himmelstein and Steffie Woolhandler note, “It apparently takes substantial administrative effort to keep sick patients out of empty hospital beds.”

The Times finds this outrageous, and for good reason (it makes the health coverage they provide their workers more expensive). But the most serious problem with market-based health care entirely escapes their notice: under our capitalist health care system many workers, and indeed entire communities, do not receive basic health care services. Hospitals (including ostensibly non-profit ones) refuse to treat patients who don’t have health insurance or well- paid jobs. About 300,000 people are refused care each year at hospital emergency rooms because they are uninsured or inadequately insured; if their lives are in immediate danger they are patched up and shipped to often overcrowded private hospitals. And many people go without necessary medicine because they cannot afford to pay for it. The U.S. has the highest infant mortality rate of any industrialized society (even developing countries such as Singapore do better), and both men and women die at younger ages than do our fellow workers in many other countries. Quite simply, thousands of our fellow workers suffer and die each year because of the capitalist health care industry and its profit motive.

Managed Care No Solution

Clinton’s health care reform plan begins with the basic assumption that Americans are overinsured, and thus focuses on creating incentives to force us to be more cost-conscious health care consumers. Managed competition might (depending on how tight- fisted the government proves) end up saving money over the long run (in the short run it means higher costs and higher profits for the insurance industry), but only at the expense of people’s health. Clinton proposes phasing in “universal” health care over the next four years (undocumented workers would not be covered–apparently they will be left to die in the streets). But this “universal” plan would offer only the most minimal coverage–co-payments of as much of $25 per visit would discourage many people from seeing doctors, and Medicaid and Medicare benefits would be slashed. Himmelstein and Woolhandler describe the Clinton plan as one designed to make insurance companies the feudal lords of American medicine, “push[ing] all but the wealthy into a few cut-rate HMOs, owned by insurance giants such as Prudential. Since only the wealthy could afford higher cost plans, Managed Competition would ratify a system of care stratified along class lines, separate and unequal.”

Instead of reducing bureaucracy and administration (overhead accounts for about 14 percent of U.S. health care costs), Clinton’s plan would add new layers to the bureaucracy, while transferring Medicaid recipients from the relatively efficient (3.5% overhead) public sector to inefficient private businesses. Newly created regional health alliances would collect premiums, while a new National Health Board would establish an overall health budget and regulate premium levels. Workers would be required to pay income taxes on the value of any health care benefits that exceed the government’s minimal package (mental health, vision and dental coverage, for example). And patients would have to pay extra if they wanted to choose their own doctor.

Pilot managed care programs demonstrate that quality health care is the last thing on the government’s mind. Typically, these systems operate under a fixed price scheme in which health care providers get the same money whether or not they provide any services. Some go further, paying more to doctors who spend less. This is supposed to discourage unnecessary expense, but it is at least as likely to discourage necessary health care. When the Pentagon tested a managed care system on military families in Virginia, it didn’t bother to monitor the quality of care being offered. But it definitely saved money.

Similarly, the federal government has been encouraging Medicare patients to sign up with health maintenance organizations (HMOs). Since HMOs provide and pay for medical services directly (unlike insurance companies, which get billed after the fact), they have a clear incentive to provide as little service as possible. A study of New York City HMOs found that several did not keep adequate patient records, showed little interest in monitoring patient histories, spent huge amounts and marketing and advertising that could go to care, and provided little concrete information to patients. A 1990 General Accounting Office survey of care provided to Medicaid recipients by Chicago-area HMOs found that required preventive care was not provided to children, and worried that incentive payments to cost-cutting doctors encouraged them to delay and deny care.

Managed Care schemes cut costs in part through hard bargaining to hold down doctor and hospital payments. HMOs skimp on doctors, having them handle nearly twice as many patients as do doctors in private practice, generally leading to long waits for rushed consultations. But their centerpiece is the requirement that doctor’s visits and medical treatment be preapproved. HMOs refuse to authorize what they considers unnecessary or inefficient practices. For example, one HMO cut a patient’s psychotherapy benefits because the patient refused to take the mood altering drug Prozac. Giving people drugs instead of treatment is certainly cheaper, but is cost the primary basis upon which these decisions should be made?

As the Left Business Observer concludes, “Providers under the whip of profit maximization will skimp on care to fatten profits… In health care, the market kills.” But for all their skimping on actual health care, HMO premiums have been rising even faster than for the medical system as a whole–even without taking into account increased co-payments and other hidden costs.

Business Unions Capitulate

The Clinton proposal has been roundly condemned by consumer groups and the health care reform movement as a placebo at best, and at worst a mechanism for sucking an ever-increasing share of our wealth into the pockets of the health care profiteers. An editorial in The Progressive, for example, praised the Clintons’ sympathetic manner but concluded that their prescription could not solve the underlying problem:

Why won’t it work? Because it deliberately and decisively refuses to deal with the root cause of all the ailments so admirably described by the Clintons: the fact that the health-care system in the United States is market- oriented and profit-driven. At every level and in every aspect, health care in our country is provided on the basis of someone’s ability to turn a buck…

In recent years unions have been one of the leading forces in the battle for health care reform. The rising costs of health care benefits have been one of the factors driving corporations’ all-out assault against unions, prompting many business unions to come out in favor of a Canadian-style single-payer system in hopes of eliminating the non-union sectors’ cost advantages. But when the Clintons declared for Managed Competition most unions went along. The American Federation of Teachers, for example, ran a “special report” arguing that securing decent health care is beyond unions: “No matter how hard your local union fights for you, it can’t give you the security of health care that’s always there. The problem’s just too big for any local union, district or national union to solve.” But for all their efforts to sell the Clinton plan, primarily by presenting it as a minimum leaving unions free to negotiate better deals, the AFT admits that the “pretty short” list of excluded health benefits includes dental care, orthodontia, hearing aids, contact lenses, psychotherapy, etc. While workers could still choose their own doctors, they would be required to pay more to do so. And workers would be required to pay income taxes on any health benefits that exceed the government’s stingy package.

The situation will be even worse for part-time workers. Employers will pay a pro-rated insurance contribution based on the number of hours they work, part-timers will be required to come up with the rest of the money themselves (and since coverage will be mandatory, they will find themselves in a very deep hole indeed).

Most health care reformers call for a “single payer” system modelled on Canada’s, where basic health care services are funded by taxes and the government pays doctors and hospitals directly. Such a system reduces administrative overhead and paperwork by eliminating insurance companies, as well as economic barriers to health care access. And since the government is the sole payer of health care bills, it can theoretically set global budgets to hold expenditures in line. (In practice this works less well; the Canadian system is the second most expensive in the world and offers coverage only marginally better than that in the U.S. Since doctors and hospitals continue to operate in a capitalist economy, they have strong incentives to push payment levels upward; the government must choose between limiting available health services and taking on the powerful health care industry.)

But this also gives the government immense powers over the lives of its citizens–the power to dictate what medical services will be available, what drugs they will and will not take, etc. In an era of economic decline, the government could quickly become an HMO-like operator backed by the full coercive power of the state.

Syndicalist Approaches

In a society organized along anarcho-syndicalist lines, health care would be one of the many necessities available to all without charge. While we have little interest in developing a social blueprint (the details of any free social organization must of necessity be worked out by those who constitute it, and evolve in accord with experience and changing needs), a syndicalist health care system would surely be self-managed by health care workers themselves — working through their union which would include all workers involved in delivering health care, from those who scrub the floors to the nurses and doctors. Health workers’ unions would federate among themselves internationally — to share and develop their expertise, to provide training, etc. — and with other groups in their communities to ascertain what services are needed and to ensure that the necessary resources are provided. This would likely involve a radical rethinking of the way in which health care is delivered, with greater attention to preventive care (prenatal care, routine checkups, nutrition, etc. — but also environmental conditions) and changes in the division of labor which now separates doctors’ mental labor (diagnosis, prescription, etc.) from hands-on treatment.

Anarchists have considered these issues before, if not in the context of our highly technological medical system. Kropotkin argued that the progress of civilization could be measured by the extent to which such necessities (a term he defined broadly to also include culture, information, etc.) were available, free of charge, to all. G.P. Maximoff noted that medical and sanitation services (sanitation was the preventive medicine of the day — indeed it is only in recent decades that medicine developed the ability to significantly improve people’s health) were essential public functions to be supported by the communal economy and administered by the union of medical and sanitary workers. “The Public Health service will cover the entire country with a close net of medical and sanitary centers, hospitals and sanitoria.” Alexander Berkman argued that such needs should be met by locally based voluntary committees, rather than by centralized structures which were likely to overlook real needs and stifle the spirit of human solidarity so necessary to social progress.

During the Spanish Revolution, our comrades faced the problem of constructing basic medical services essentially from nothing. (Spain certainly had doctors and hospitals, but like other social services these were not available to most workers because of cost and location.) As Gaston Leval wrote,

The socialization of health services was one of the greatest achievements of the revolution… The Health Workers’ Union was founded in September, 1936… All health workers, from porters to doctors and administrators, were organized into the one big union of health workers….

Before the revolution, Spain had one of the highest infant mortality rates in Europe and vast inequality in access to services. So it was not sufficient merely to take charge of the existing system — it had to be (re)constructed from the ground up. In Catalonia, the health workers’ union distributed health centers throughout the province to ensure that everyone was within easy travelling distance. There were, of course, many difficulties:

Where there had been an artificially created surplus of doctors serving the wealthy under capitalism, there was now under the socialized medical system a shortage of doctors badly needed to serve the disadvantaged masses who never before received good medical care…. Not all health services could be entirely socialized, but most of the dental clinics in Catalonia were controlled by the syndicate, as were all the hospitals, clinics and sanitariums… Private doctors still practiced, but… the cost of operations was controlled. Payments for treatments were made through the syndicates, not directly to the physicians. In the new clinics, surgery and dental extractions were free….

In the village of Albalate de Cinca, for example, the local collective provided free health care to all, providing the town doctor with medical supplies and books, and, of course, with the necessities of life from their collective labor. Similar arrangements were made throughout Aragon and Catalonia.

It is, however, relatively easy to sketch how we might provide health care in an ideal society; given that we are not presently in a position to socialize the health care system, the question of what our position should be towards proposals to address the immediate health care crisis remains open. In Britain, the anarchist movement — while intensely critical of the many inadequacies of the nationalized health care service and its bureaucratic deformations — has generally opposed efforts to reprivatize health care, recognizing that this would only worsen the situation. Similarly, in the U.S. many anarchists have taken part in efforts to fight the closing of public hospitals or their privatization.

Some anarchists, such as the anarchist caucus of the Committees of Correspondence, call for a national health plan, apparently modelled after Canada’s system. But it is far from evident that such a system can meet people’s needs. In Canada, health care costs are rising almost as sharply as in the U.S., prompting government efforts to control costs by cutting back on services. Workers (whether in health care, or in society as a whole) have little influence over health care policy — rather the important decisions are made by government bureaucrats, and driven by the need to placate the health care corporations, on the one hand, and the transnational corporations’ demands for global competitiveness on the other.

Any meaningful health care reform needs to eliminate capitalism from the health care system and place decision-making in local communities (though funding would need to be drawn from a wider area, in order to address the vastly different wealth levels and the greater health needs typically found in poor communities). This might take the form of community-based health clinics, mutual aid societies (of the sort that provided sickness and death benefits to hundreds of thousands of workers in the early years of this century), or union-sponsored facilities.

Decent health care should be available to all as a fundamental human right. Yet infants die for lack of prenatal care, people live in fear of being bankrupted by medical bills in the event of a major illness or accident, many others cannot afford medications for chronic illnesses, people die every day because there is no profit in treating them. This is a strong indictment of our capitalist system and its inability to meet basic human needs. But the solution is not in strengthening the insurance companies or more government control. Rather, we must seize control of health care — so necessary to ensure our ability to live out our lives — and build a health care system (and, indeed, a society) organized around fulfilling human needs.


1. “Paying for health,” Left Business Observer #57, Feb. 16 1993, pp. 2-7. Figures vary widely for the numbers uninsured and underinsured; David Himmelstein and Steffie Woolhandler (The National Health Program Book, Common Courage Press, 1994, pp. 24-5) estimate that about 37 million Americans are uninsured at any one time, and that 1 in 4 (63.3 million) were uninsured for at least one month in a 28-month period from 1986-88.

2. Thomas Bodenheimer, “Health Care Reform in the 1990s and Beyond,”Socialist Review 1993(1), pp. 18-20.

3. David Rosenbaum, “Economic Outlaw: American Health Care,” The New York Times, Oct. 26 1993, pp. 1, D22.

4. Himmilstein & Woolhandler, The National Health Program Book, p. 89.

5. Himmelstein & Woolhandler, The National Health Program Book.

6. Himmelstein & Woolhandler, p. 183.

7. Robert Pear, “Congress is Given Clinton Proposal for Health Care,” The New York Times, Oct. 28 1993, pp. 1, A24-A25.

8. Judith Ebenstein, “Big Brother, Manager” (Letter), The New York Times, Nov. 16 1993, p. A26.

9. “Cost Control,” Left Business Observer #58, April 26, 1993, p. 8.

10. Himmelstein & Woolhandler, p. 188.

11. “Placebo” (Editorial), The Progressive, November 1993, p. 9.

12. “The Clinton health plan: A union Q&A,” On Campus, November 1993, p. 4.

13. See my “Peter Kropotkin’s Anarchist Communism,” Libertarian Labor Review 12, Winter 1992, pp. 19-24.

14. G.P. Maximoff, Program of Anarcho-Syndicalism, p. 32; originally published in Russian in 1927. English translation by Ada Siegel included in Maximoff’s Constructive Anarchism (Maximoff Memorial Publishing Committee, 1952). Reprinted 1985 by Monty Miller Press, Sydney, Australia.

15. Alexander Berkman, ABC of Anarchism, London: Freedom Press, 1977 (Excerpt from 1929 edition of What is Communist Anarchism), pp. 72-3.

16. in Sam Dolgoff, ed., The Anarchist Collectives: Workers’ Self- Management in the Spanish Revolution, New York: Free Life Editions, 1974, pp. 99-101.

17. Dolgoff, The Anarchist Collectives, pp. 119, 133-34.

18. “National Health Plan Now!@!” Black and Red #5, July/August 1993, p. 1. The article criticizes the emerging Clinton plan and quotes several advocates of a single-payer system, but offers no details of what sort of national play they advocate.

Principles of Libertarian Economics pt 2

by Abraham Guillen (translated by Jeff Stein)

As part of our continuing efforts to present anarchist economic theory, we offer this translation from Abraham Guillen’s book, Economia Libertaria. Because of its length, we are publishing it in three parts. The first part was in LLR #14, the conclusion will be in LLR #16.

The Demystification of Politics

The experience of more than half a century of “velvet socialist” [ie. social democrat], Christian democrat and liberal governments practicing Keynesian economics in the West, as well as the totalitarian communist governments of the East with centralized planning, has been that the workers remain wage slaves either way, building up surplus value for the private or State owner. They are exploited as much on one side of the world as another, whether under the governments of Olaf Palme, of Kohl or Honecker, of Thatcher or Reagan, of Gorbachev or Yeltsin.

From this it can be deduced that “state socialism” is neither socialism nor communism, but is instead the collective ownership, usufruct, of the totalitarian bureaucracy over the surplus value extracted by the State. This bureaucratic socialism is the formal critic of private capitalism, but allows it to be transformed in the West into multinational capitalism, and in the East allows capitalism to be restored. Consequently, this leaves “libertarian socialism,” essentially anarchism, as the rational and necessary critic of both private capitalism and of state socialism as bourgeois socialism.

But if libertarian socialism wants to be an alternative to the bourgeois socialism of the West and the social-economic chaos of the East, it must be able to make the beauty and seduction of anarchist utopia compatible with a realistic economic, social and scientific vision of the world, consistent with our time. It must present a social-economic program which overcomes the crises in economy, society, politics, ecology, demographics, energy, of moral and intellectual value. It must seek to harmonize natural resources and human resources in a new social-economic order in which all people have the right to labor and education, in a way that overcomes definitively the old division of manual and intellectual work.

“Is it necessary,” asked Bakunin, “to repeat the irrefutable arguments of socialism, which no bourgeois economist has yet succeeded in disproving? What is property, what is capital in their present form? For the capitalist and the property owner they mean the power and the right, guaranteed by the State, to live without working. And since neither property nor capital produces anything when not fertilized by labor, that means the power and the right to live by exploiting the work of someone else, the right to exploit the work of those who possess neither property nor capital and who are thus forced to sell their productive power to the lucky owners of one or the other.” (Obras. Volume III, p.191)

But let us again insist that the workers, within a self-managed economy where the means of production and exchange are socialized, without either bourgeois owners, or technocrats and bureaucrats of centralized state economic planning, would be capable of conducting the economy themselves.

Now then, a libertarian economy of the self-managed type has to be capable of producing an economic surplus greater than under private or state capitalism; of converting a large part of this surplus to the reproduction of social capital, improving the productivity of labor. Therefore the workers will achieve a higher rate of growth in productive forces than private or state capitalism. There will be, thus, better and greater production with less expense of human effort and greater and better use of automated machinery. This is because only the automation of labor makes it possible to create the technical basis for libertarian communism. Socialism or communism can be justified neither economically, politically nor socially as popular misery. A dominant class backlash would be justified as necessary if the workers eat all their capital without replacing it, or without increasing it more than the soviet bureaucracy or the western bourgeoisie.

Proudhon, quoted by Guerin, concerning the self-managed economic regime, said: “The classes…must merge into one and the same association of producers.” [Would self-management succeed?] “On the reply to this …depends the whole future of the workers. If it is affirmative an entire new world will open up for humanity; if it is negative the proletarian can take it as certain….There is no hope for him in this poor world.” (Daniel Guerin, Anarchism, p.48)

In sum, there is no need to lament, there is a need to educate, to become the protagonist of the future; to prepare oneself to improve things and to make revolutionary changes; to understand the sciences, sociology, economy, and revolutionary strategy; since without a successful revolution, there can be no liberation of the workers, an outcome which cannot delegated to others but must come from the exertion of their own self-powers.

Planning and Self-Management

The planned economy has been praised by the technocrats and bureaucrats of socialism, East and West, as the rationalization and codification of national economies, with the goal of giving them a harmonious law of development, both economic and technological. According to this scheme, all the sectors of production and services will be coordinated so that none of them advances ahead or falls behind so much that it causes a crisis of disproportional development between the branches of industry, agriculture and services. However this supposed “law of harmonious development of national economies” directed by an army of bureaucrats and technocrats has in reality only introduced alongside private capitalism the capitalism of the State, leaving the workers, as always, as dependent wage workers. In both cases the workers are wage slaves that produce surplus value for the capitalist enterprenuers or the State-enterprenuer.

Apologizing for the planned economy, as the scientific economy par excellence which can predict the future with rigorous calculations, able to conduct national economies according to prior objectives based upon macroeconomic calculations, to guide the desired economic development with the help of “control equations” for the month, year, four-year, five-year, all the economic science which was the hallmark of central-planning, was declared as vulgar economic science. Particularly has this been the case in the Soviet Union, although now Yeltsin under the IMF has discovered capitalism, pure and simple, as a new “democratic” economy, even though it impoverishes the workers.

But after many years of centralized planning the national economies have revealed a crisis of underproduction, or undersupply of the market and a crisis of disproportional and unequal development between industry and agriculture, in the USSR and all the countries of the ruble zone. Indicative planning, as advocated in the West by the techno-bureaucratic thought of Keynes, Schumpeter, Galbraith and Burnham, was an economic doctrine, of center and left and including some of the right, taken up by the parties of the social-democrats, socialists, christian-democrats and neo-liberals. These parties mobilize the politicians of the middle class professionals, who aspire to a State-benefactor where, as the first enterprise of all, the technocrats are the directors more than the capitalists properly speaking.

By means of the welfare-State the reformist middle class, from right to left, comes robbing the usufruct of the government. Thanks to the sector of nationalized enterprises, of social security insurance, of public services, and the nationalization of many banks, a “bureaucratic-technocratic bourgeoisie” is created, more solid, if possible, than the old bourgeoisie. Thereafter, if their businesses register a deficit, there is no one who will cancel it, or even less keep account of credits and debtsor if things go bad force the enterprise into bankruptcy. On the contrary, the abundant existence of nationalized enterprises in the West has created a whole series of directors, executives and “businessmen” with inflated salaries, regardless of whether their enterprises can show benefits greater than losses. This “bourgeoisie of the State” is shoving aside the classic bourgeoisie, since the former has political parties monopolizing the State, the nationalized banks, the machinery to print inflated money and to tax with discretion. The only beneficiary from the growing productivity of labor, growing like a foam on the waves, is not a private owning class, but those who indirectly own public property in the form of State property, as a political class.

Accordingly, indicative planning or centralized planning, which aspires to impose a balanced national economic development, has distorted the law of harmonious social division of labor. The welfare State expands the unproductive sector (middle class functionaries, bureaucrats and technocrats), while increasing the productivity of labor in industry and agriculture. This creates an aberrant economy of inflation of the unproductive population which sterilely devours the wealth of societies and nations. It can lead to a total economic crisis, of systematic nature, since in order to resolve it requires more than simply changing leaders. Instead a corrupt, contradictory and antagonistic socio-economic regime of multi-national capitalist monopolies opposed to the general interest must be replaced with universal libertarian socialism.

The economists and politicians of the middle class parties, including in their ranks the reformist union bureaucrats, the professional politicians, the phoney savants (political, economic, and technical), would submit to a social economy, as much in the East as in the West, of a dictatorship of the techno-bureaucracy as “new dominant class.” The bourgeoisie, due to the centralization of capital in both large and small enterprises, diminishes in statistical number, according to the law of mercantile competition, liquidating in the market those capitalists who are smaller and thus equipped with less productive machines which produce at a higher cost. But, in contrast, the bureaucracy, the technocracy, the professional of all types, are augmented more by the very same thing that diminishes the bourgeoisie annihilated by economic competition, the centralization of capital in the multinationals.

The Totalitarian State

In this sense, the State tends to convert itself into the largest of all business enterprises in the West, and as the only business in the East, that is to say, the enterprise which owns all the nationalized enterprises. And thus, under these conditions, the State which owns everything also is the master of all persons who by virtue of their political alienation see the State as God- protector, although the State as sole protector of Society takes from them by taxes, charges or low salaries more than it gives in return. Meanwhile the poor people are hoping that the State is a benefactor, and that a middle class political party will offer to save them in return for their votes. Each day things go from bad to worse, because the countless bureaucrats consume from above the capital which is needed below to maintain full employment in industry and agriculture.

Without debureaucratization and debourgeoisfication there is no way out of the growing economic and social crisis which is caused by the excessive economic waste involved in the sterile consumption of the parasitic classes: the bureaucratic apparatus of the State, the superfluous institutions filled with supernumerous personnel, the administrations of enterprises which have begun to have more “white collars” than productive workers, and finally, a whole series of “tertiary” and “quaternary” services that spend without contributing much to the social wealth. And we are not saying that this happens only in the capitalist countries, but that this affects equally badly the so-called “socialist” countries. By means of centralized bureaucratic planning of their economies, all social capital, labor, national income and economic power is placed in the hands of a techno-bureaucracy of planning, for whom workers and their products are only ciphers in five-year plans.

In this way they create social relations between those who have Power and those who suffer as wage workers not essentially different than those existing in the capitalist countries. So it is that the worker continues as the producer of surplus value, whether for the State or private businesses. Meanwhile the workers do not have the right to self-manage their own workplaces, to democratically decide its organization and the economic surplus produced, nor to elect their own workplace councils by direct and secret vote. Without these rights, centralized planning creates a bureaucracy based upon state property instead of social property, and endeavors to substitute State capitalism for private capitalism. Thus eventually it ends up by alienating into an external power outside of the wage workers, whether under the western capitalist or the soviet model.

The large western capitalist enterprise, national or multi- national, when it concentrates multi-millions in capital and exploits monopolies in production and thousands of workers (for example Fiat, Siemens, I.C.I., General Motors, Unilever, Nestle, Hitachi, or nationalized industrial complexes like IRI, British Steel and INI) leads to a bureaucratic and totalitarian condition within the enterprise. The workers neither know nor elect the administrative councils of these gigantic corporations, anymore than the workers in the former USSR. The directors are forced upon them from above, just as in other ages the mandarins and satraps were designated in the regimes of Asian despotism.

For the Soviet regime to have qualified as socialist, not just semantically but in reality, it would have had as its economic basis the social ownership of the means of production and exchange, the direct democracy of the people instead of the bureaucratic dictatorship of the single Party, the decentralization of power (economic, political and administrative) by the means of a federalism which would have assured the popular participation at all levels of decision-making, political, economic, social, cultural, informational and self-defense. In this way a self- managed, libertarian, self-organized society, would have replaced the dictatorship of the bureaucracy, in which society was regimented and watched-over by the State-employer, all-powerful permanent leaders and the political police of the KGB.

It could be argued that a vision of such nature is utopian or too good to be true, but historical experience shows that centralism cannot create more productive forces than can decentralization and federalism. Centralism is always bureaucratism and consequently consumes unproductively in the salaries of supernumerous personnel. In our epoch computer networks–if they are well programmed, if their memory is updated and constantly renewed, if they register all the fundamental data of a country, a society, an enterprise, a locality, district and region–are more efficient and cheaper for the management of the enterprise or society than the professional politicians or technocrats and bureaucrats of all types.

If the State is given too much power, as under the Soviet model or under the western welfare-State, it will tend towards state control over capital, labor, technology, science, information, industry, of social security and public services. Therefore this absolute power will create a totalitarian State, even though disguised as a parliamentary regime, symbolically under the Soviet model and rhetorically but not in practice in the West. In either case, the totalitarian bureaucracy or the pseudo- democratic political class collectively controls the business of the State as its business, but parasitically as a cancer on Society.

Popular Self-Government

In our school of thought, economic growth, the right of work for all, economic, cultural and technological progress, are developed with fewer obstacles in a libertarian society than in a society under the totalitarian dictatorship of large capitalist monopolies or the capitalism of the State. In both cases, given the great progress realized by our society, the dictatorships of private capital or State capital can be overcome. A self-managed society can be established with social ownership of the means of production and exchange, uniting capital, labor and technology without antagonism over classes or forms of property. This would create an egalitarian society in culture, economics and technology, thanks to an economy of abundance.

It is possible to the give power of self-government to the local communities, districts, provinces and regions, by means of an economic federalism and self-administration which would be integrated into a Supreme Economic Council. This would not be a Gosplan as in the former USSR, but a co-government of things by means of federations of production and services. These federations would function democratically and be self-managed, with the goal of the total process having a law of harmony of development without economic crises of disproportionality between all the branches of production and services. In other words, they would function without relative crises of underproduction or overproduction as occurs, respectively, under State capitalism or private capitalism.

For this to happen, it is necessary to have democracy and economic growth, with an increased productivity of labor. This would also require the full employment of the active population, along with the full participation of all in the decisions and the knowledge for this within reach of everyone. It is necessary to create a libertarian society, in which the elites of power and knowledge and social estates of every type, would be transcended in work, science, capital and technology, by means of effective self- management, the real participation of the people. Thus it would be possible to abolish all class domination, whether that of the bourgeois State and its capitalist economy or that of the bureaucratic, totalitarian State and its centrally planned economy. It is necessary, therefore, to liberate oneself ideologically from parliamentary socialism, from totalitarian communism, from bourgeois democracy which is economic dictatorship, from corporatism of every type–and establishing in their place a democracy of association, self-managed and libertarian, where everyone would be equal in rights and responsibilities, with privileges for no one. Only this type of self-government is government of the people, by the people and for the people.

Federations of Production and Services

The planning of economic, cultural and technological development must arise from the putting of social wealth in common and not under the domination of the State and its techno- bureaucracy. The first case involves a program of harmonizing the proportion of growth of the branches of production and services with full participation from bottom to top, based on a libertarian and federative socialism. The second, the concentration of all power in the hands of the State, leads to centralized planning from top to bottom, without popular participation, so that the workers are more objects than subjects, so many ciphers in the Gosplan, according to the soviet model.

If the worker remains separated from worker by means of private property or State property, there must be between capital and labor a power of domination over those who labor for a wage. The working people can never be emancipated within this mode. Emancipation can not be won individually but only collectively, although each may have free will. The realization of full liberty and personality for the worker requires a self-organized society without the need for State oppression, whether it is called right or left, bourgeois or bureaucratic, conservative or revolutionary. Without self-managed socialism, social property and self- government, all systems are the same.

The salvation of humanity is collective and not individual, because the human is a social being, solidaric, with the aim of self-defense from other species since the paleolithic period. It is the class division of humanity, in the wake of private property and the State, which makes possible the exploitation of man by man, of the proletarian by the proprietor. Along these lines, Bakunin said to his friend Reichel: “All our philosophy starts from a false premise. This is that it begins by always considering man as an individual and not, as it must, as a being who belongs to a collective.” (Oeuvres, Volume II, p.60)

On this sentiment, Proudhon agreed with Bakunin to the extent that man is a social being, needing community and solidarity: “All that reason knows and affirms–leads us to say–that the human being, just the same as an idea, is part of a group… All that exists is in groups; all that form the group are one, and consequently, what is …Outside the group are no more than abstractions, phantasms. By this concept, the human being in general…is from that which I am able to prove positive reality.” (Philosophie du progress, Obras, Volume XX, pp. 36-38)

The human being, in reality, does not exist outside the society from which he/she has appeared as a free subject; but at the same time solidarity with others in daily life, at work, in education, in self-defense, particularly at the beginning of humanity, “mutual aid” was the basis of existence of man associated to man, even though under capitalism man is possessed by an appetite for wealth and the cult of the money-god.

Developing the doctrine of “mutual aid,” Kropotkin, who studied the behavior of many animal species, predicted that this would evolve in a future society:

Society would be composed of a multitude of associations united among themselves for everything which would require their common effort: federations of producers in all branches of production, agricultural, industrial, intellectual, artistic; communities for consumption, entrusted to provide to all everything related to housing, lighting, heating, nutrition, sanitation, etc.; federations of communities between themselves; federations of communities of production groups; groupings even wider still, which would encompass a whole country or including various countries; groupings of people dedicated to work in common for the satisfaction of their economic, intellectual, artistic needs, which are not limited by territorial boundaries. All these associated groups would combine freely their efforts by means of a reciprocal alliance (…); and a complete liberty would preside over the unfolding of new forms of production, of research and of self- organization; individual initiative, not withstanding, would be encouraged and all tendencies towards uniformity and centralization, combatted. (Alrededor de una vida, p. 140)

By means of this federalism based upon libertarian socialism, the economy, the natural and human resources, the balance of natural ecosystems, the full employment of available labor, the leisure and education time at all levels of knowledge, the social- economic and cultural life of locality, district, province, region, nation or the world, can be programmed with the participation of everyone in everything, without creating a great deal of confusion. On the contrary, the local and the universal, the individual and the society, the particular and the general, would be understood perfectly by reason of complete information from computer networks which would register all the important data to accomplish at the end a perfect database. By virtue of this, everyone would know all, avoiding thus a condition in which those with knowledge have the power, as occurs in the totalitarian, bureaucratic, centrally planned countries, where the people are ignored.

The federations of production and services, dividing into natural associations, from the bottom to the top, create the democratic conditions for a planning with liberty. Unlike what happened in soviet Russia, the economic planning would not be entrusted to a dictatorship of technocrats who want to substitute themselves for the old bourgeoisie. To be employed by the total State instead of by an individual boss does not change the condition of dependency and alienation for the worker, except to make the situation worse; since this makes the law into a fraud, a law that does not limit the absolute powers of the State, which corrupts absolutely the few who govern absolutely, the few oppressors and exploiters written in the lists of the “Nomenclature.” To change, therefore, private capitalism for State capitalism from a western pseudo-democratic bourgeoisie to a totalitarian bureaucracy is a poor trade for the wage workers since they do not cease to be what they are, the producers of surplus value for the bourgeoisie or bureaucracy, for the private boss or for the State.

In consequence, as the founders of the IWA put it, “the emancipation of the workers is the task of the workers themselves.” From this point of view, working people can only emancipate themselves by the means of a libertarian socialism of self- management where “the chaos of production would not reign,” but instead there would prevail a planning with liberty, with the participation of workers and citizens at all levels of political and economic decision-making; of information, culture, science and technology; of information processing, gathering, classification, and computerization of data, economic, demographic, political, social, scientific, technical, natural resources, etc.

A social-economic program, with continual popular participation (not indirectly through municipal, regional or national elections), must be by the means of federations in industry, agriculture, and services, integrated into a Federative Council of the Economy, in which all the federations producing goods and services must be represented. By way of example, this “Federative Council of the Economy” would have to integrate, among others, the following federations: Fruits and horticultural products; Cereals; Feed for livestock; Food industry, including imports; Hostelry and Tourism; Wine, beer, and alcoholic beverages; Oils and greases from vegetable and animals; Fishing: boats and canning; Textiles; Furs and leather; Timber and cork; Paper and graphic arts; Chemicals; Construction; Glass and ceramics; Metal machining; Steel; Non-ferrous minerals: metals and alloys; Energy: petroleum, coal, gas, electricity, and atomic energy; Information and the construction of computers, integrated micro-circuits, and semi-conductors; Electronics: numerical controlled machines; Biotechnology; Aero-space; Research and Development, uniting technology with work.

This list of industrial federations does not include all the social and public services, which would be too tedious to number but would have to be represented in the Federative Council of the Economy as well. By example, commerce, banking, sanitation, security and social security, which are enormous, would have to be reorganized, since these entail much unproductive work that would have to be reduced. The goal must be that concrete production is not exceeded by unproductive work, since this would restrain or slow real economic growth. In other words, there must be no false increase in the Gross Internal Product, which occurs when it is incremented solely by services and not in the branches of industry, in either the primary sector (agriculture, fishing, livestock, lumber, minerals, etc.) or the secondary sector (industry of diverse types).


Anarcho-Syndicalism: A Historical Closed Door…or Not?

by Harald Beyer-Arnesen, ASR 22

Ilan Shalif, a libertarian communist whose thoughts I value even when I do not agree with the conclusions reached, made the following remarks on the electronic discussion list of class-struggle anarchists, Organise, which provoked the following thoughts. (However, he would not necessarily agree with all the positions I argue against below.)

Anarcho-syndicalist union is a myth and a dream that cannot be materialized in the capitalist society of this time. And if it could be, it would have been only of its members. Nothing can belong to the wider working class but the fact that its members are exploited by the capitalist class. … I still can not see at present any anarcho-syndicalist union that is not so only in name. (Either it is not a union or it is already on the way of co-option and reformism.) … In the capitalist society of the 2000s, it is hard to imagine any practical union which is not big and co-opted. It is entirely different thing with regard to workers committees in a not too huge conglomerate….

It is like in wave surfing at the sea – you can “catch” waves, you cannot create them. In our struggles, we [libertarian communists] are part of the water, but the main variable is the wind of history – we can only contribute to it our breath.

When the time will come that authentic workers unions will tend to become libertarian it will mean that the revolution is already on it.

Is anarcho-syndicalism, and revolutionary unionism in general, a historical closed door: a dream that cannot be materialized in the capitalist society of this time?

Contemporary story may seem to back up such a claim. In the post World War 11 period the syndicalist Central Organisation of Sweden’s Workers (SAC) was transformed into a bleak shadow of its former self. This carries some significance as, with the exception of the French CGT in a much earlier period, SAC is the only revolutionary union never to be brutally suppressed. Meanwhile the Wobblies of the IWW are alive and kicking, but only 900 of them; the CNT after Franco is reduced to below ten thousand members, and in the very place of its former grandeur, Catalonia, is crumbling from inner tensions; the modest growth of the French CNT and Unione Sindicale Italiana produced passionate disputes on questions of co-option and reformism, and ended in splits; the German FAU is showing progress as far as newspaper production goes, but there is little sign of union-building; Solidarity Federation’s industrial network in U. K. consists of half a hundred members; elsewhere the situation is pretty much like in Norway where NSF has kept it going since 1976 as a small propaganda group, with currently approximately 40 members spreading the message within the corporative unions. The renewed interest in Eastern Europe has so far produced nothing more. In the early historical strongholds of anarcho-syndicalism in South and Central America, the situation is even bleaker than in Europe. The most promising sign in a long term perspective may be the reappearance of the advocacy of revolutionary unionism in South Africa, and for the first time in Nigeria and Sierra Leone, but any union is at this point nowhere to be seen. The general picture Ilan paints of the current state of affairs is true enough, even if one could always argue over its complete accuracy, but that would mostly be on definitions.

But to permanently shut the historical door of anarcho-syndicalism, it is not enough to empirically determine its current state, and to disclose the mechanisms within contemporary capitalism working against building such a movement in the immediate future, one would also have to deny the possibility of its re-emergence in times when the class struggle intensifies, and more workers begin believing in a world beyond capitalism. The present marginality, and for the most part non-existence of revolutionary unionism, could very likely be said to be a reflection of the current generalized lack of confidence among workers in the very possibility to build a world without capitalist social relations. The question should also be asked: would building even a marginal revolutionary unionist structure at the present moment function as a vehicle for increased confidence in parts of the working class? I find reasons to believe that the answer to this is yes. But let us first take a look ahead.

The Link to the Future Society

It is logical for social revolutionaries to view the organizational question in the light of their ends; to find means consistent with the needs of a future global libertarian communist society, or here more particularly with the needs of a transition to such a society: the bridge to the organizational forms perpetually created anew within the boundaries of materiality by the needs, desires and imaginative powers of members of a free society.

We live in a world with an excessively developed division of labor. This makes the existence of horizontal links between workers critical to the success of asocial revolution. This is not an entirely new situation. The absence of pre-existing horizontal links was one of the main factors contributing to the failure of the Russian revolution, sustaining among workers a lack of confidence in their ability for self-management beyond the limits of the workplace.

Workers councils are predominantly structured around geographical units and are not adequate to deal with the day to day horizontal links of production in a non-bureaucratic manner. Thus it was no coincidence that it was through the soviets that the Bolsheviks first established their separate power, while the factory committees served as a base for opposition and workers’ power during the short revolutionary period in Russia, a power which soon dissolved in the absence of functional horizontal ties.

While these are not unique to revolutionary syndicalism, and also bureaucratic unions maintain them, they are there only exceptionally direct links between workers in general: as a rule they bring the select few together and serve the function of isolating workers into mutual passivity, transforming mutual contact and aid into the business of a stratum of specialists cultivating the noble art of empty phrases – making any direct contact between workers in general suspect and illegitimate.

The Question of Permanent Organizations

Some social revolutionaries forswear any permanent large-scale working class organization within the framework of capitalism. As capitalism is the very raison d’etre of such organizations, these organizations, in trying to maintain their separate existence when the class struggle has reached a stage where this framework may be transcended, become institutionalised obstacles blocking the way for the full unfolding of the revolution. The revolution must create its own organizational forms; those which may endure and grow within the framework of capitalism will be inadequate to the needs of the social revolution. The unions in their function as brokers of labor power cannot escape the logic of capital, regardless of the political convictions of its delegates and the efforts to develop democratic union structures. It thus becomes critical to uncover the illusions of unionism and diffuse knowledge of working class struggles directed simultaneously against the employers and the union.

But following this logic, these anti-union struggles will be compelled to either transform themselves into alternative structures taking up in themselves the function of a union, or fall back to a situation of atomization within or without the corporative union structure. Consequently one is seemingly left with the illusionist trick of making atomization the springboard of the social revolution. More likely, the tacit assumption underlying this strategical thought is that a revolutionary ferment will arise from within the corporative union structure, thus making itself entirely dependent on the continued existence of this framework.

The critique of unionism contained within the above position is, however, not alien to anarcho-syndicalism The awareness of its inevitable contradictory nature is at very core of anarcho-syndicalism and the source of its vitality. In this it captures the fundamental reality of the working class within capitalism and inserts itself into the very terrain where social revolutions are born, and where they also repeatedly have been lost. Anarcho-syndicalism’s contradictory nature at the same time constitutes its driving revolutionary force and puts it in jeopardy of being co-opted by the logic of capitalism. Therefore the great emphasis on institutionalized precautions to prevent the latter development and the re-occurring conflicts within anarcho-syndicalism.

The only guarantee against co-option is death, so it becomes self-evident that any permanent organizational structure within capitalism will perpetually run the risk of being co-opted, and as such become an obstacle in a revolutionary situation. But to counter the argument, would an organizational structure emerging in the heat of a revolutionary situation, composed of workers with most of their concrete experiences from within a bureaucratized, corporative union structure, or disorganized altogether, be less likely to be co-opted into either an old or new class relation? I think not. The opposite seems a far more rational judgement. The tendency to reformism and co-option which always will exist within revolutionary unionism (the “heroes” growing tired) constitutes one of its greatest assets. It forces these questions to be answered concretely on a day-to-day basis, and not just in an abstract future. I refuse to accept the logic that being accustomed to a greater degree of servility and passivity is a great asset in a revolutionary situation. Neither do I see any historical evidence supporting this view, but on the contrary an endless trail of blood and a line of tyrants giving witness to the opposite.

It may even be asked if the rejection by genuine revolutionaries of all permanent mass organizations is not the ultimate triumph of capitalist co-option.

The Question of Co-optation

Since the time of the emergence of a mass union movement, and the “glorious” period of revolutionary syndicalism, capitalism has greatly sophisticated the mechanism which enables it to integrate unions into its development. This process started the moment private and state capital felt compelled to accept the existence of unions.

This acceptance has everywhere been intimately bound to the condition that the unions through their representatives exercise a restraining and disciplinary influence, and when necessary use sanctions to keep their members within certain limits to the point where unions have become the main factor upholding capitalist stability. Some fragments of this history in two of the Scandinavian countries may illustrate this:

From 1905 the Swedish Employer’s Association (SAF) started working towards a system of nationwide collective bargaining and binding, time-limited agreements. As is often the case, it was foremost the major industrial companies which saw the advantage of integrating unions into positions of shared responsibility, and the attendant consolidation of centralism such a process was bound to entail. As more and more binding agreements were entered on a national level between the member organizations of SAF and the social democratic union confederation LO, this left the syndicalist SAC, with its principled stand against such contracts in an entrenched position. What should be considered licit and illicit forms of industrial actions and procedures was agreed upon and later confirmed and institutionalized through the “Law on Collective Agreements and the Industrial Tribunal” of 1928. This law, which was to be followed up by others, became an instrument for connecting, not only injunctions and sanctions but likely more crucial, benefits such as unemployment insurance to what was regulated in nationwide contracts. Members of SAC were to be covered by these, even if their union refused to have any part in them. The law of 1928 stands out as a milestone in a process which effectively marginalized SAC, the expressed intention of both SAF and LO. Since then a thousand threads have been spun binding the employers associations, the unions and the state together in a web of interdependence.

In Norway, the national contracts were largely a result of the Norwegian Employer’s Association’s lock-out strategy. But from about 1911 there had developed a strong syndicalist inspired opposition within LO advocating direct-action methods. In 1918 the Iron and Metal Worker’s Federation resolved to lay the power of beginning and ending industrial actions in the hands of the workers directly affected, while the Workingman’s Federation, the largest union at the time, resolved to abstain from signing local contracts, What went under the name, “recognized terms,” had also increasingly supplanted written contracts locally. This led to a court decision in 1920 saying that the unions would be hold juridically responsible for the actions of their local branches, whether they chose to sign the contracts or not, thus undermining one of the principal reasons not to be an official party in any written contract: “to get away from the condition where the employers can force the union to intervene when irregularities occur.”

The slave contracts as they were aptly called at the time, would not go away. Instead, around them an intricate web of laws and binding agreements were to regulate every potential and imaginal conflict between buyers and sellers of labor power. Within this framework there was no room left for revolutionary unionism… which in effect became unlawful. In the process workers gained something but the employers gained far more: stable conditions for the continued exploitation of labor, a pacified workforce, and a corpse of worker representatives extending from the top to the bottom levels, most of the times both capable and willing to sustain peace, order and a spirit of mutual responsibility for the welfare of capitalism, and with the state as the final, “neutral” arbiter.

This corporative structure may be most clearly expressed in countries like the Scandinavian ones with a high percentage of workers organized into passivity, but even in countries with a very low percentage of unionization, the overall conditions of the working class as a whole is largely determined within the framework of a the more or less corporative union-employer-state relation. This latter situation however tends to open up a wider potential field for action and organizational structures more difficult to control.

In places where unions are wholly or partially outlawed, and where consequently direct action often is the only channel for discontent left, the situation becomes less predictable and potentially explosive. Conditions vary somewhat from country to country. In India, according to one source from that part of the world, every union is a private enterprise, a money machine for its owner(s). There is no way out of studying unions and the situation they operate under concretely, but still what is most striking in the overall picture is that the moment unions gain some legality, there is a strong tendency that they are co-opted into a resemblance of the unionism of the former Soviet Union. Is not the AFL-CIO in many ways, if not in all, just such an outfit? Still, is this all unions could possibly become within contemporary capitalism?

The Cleavage in the Link

Workers will always organize themselves whenever they see the need, and they have the sufficient cohesion and collective strength to do so. Unions are simply not something we can avoid, even if we so wished: they are something capitalism imposes upon us, or to be more precise, capitalism imposes the situation which produces the need for them, and from this need we cannot escape before we take the world in our own hands. The more disorganized we are as workers – membership in corporative unions being often just a particular kind of disorganization, functioning largely as the organization of passivity and division — the more we will become a flexible material in the hands of others, and ruled by the logic of capital.

The labor contract, whether collective or individual, is by its very nature a disciplinary mechanism at the very foundation of capitalism. Entering into such contracts involves a conditional acceptance of the class relations. This is simply the prerequisite of survival of any worker, and not something one can withdraw from on the basis of one’s political convictions.

As wage slaves – temporarily employed or unemployed, in the process of being formed as one, or already discarded – we are linked to the functioning of capitalism. But this linkage is not total; we are not the mere appendages of capital. Our acceptance is always conditional: In wildcat strikes and in an endless numbers of minor acts of sabotage and obstruction daily taking place at most every workplace, we temporarily withdraw it. There exists a cleavage in the link that can be widened or tightened, which also implies that the process described above is reversible. The contrary would also be sensational, implying that the structure of unions could somehow remain entirely unaffected by the general ebb and tide of the class struggle. The anarcho-syndicalist project is to make the forced acceptance of the class relation more and more conditional, until the final explosion of energy, dreams, thoughts and desires, where the linkage is broken, classes abolished and our free individual and collective creative powers are put in use to non-hierarchically rule the present and future, without the bondage imposed by the Siamese twins of state and capital.

To Catch the Winds

The rejection of anarcho-syndicalism out of fear of co-option has a slight similarity to the sailor who shrinks from learning to swim as he is concerned it might put his life in jeopardy.

To recreate anarcho-syndicalism may seem to be the vicious circle of being too few to set out and remaining so because the organization for workers to join is not there. Even when the first framework is set up, and there exists something you can begin talking of in terms of a union, many will say: “Could be a good idea, but far too small to be a union. If more workers join, I will consider it.” Despite its legendary history this is pretty much the situation for the IWW today.

But this mechanism works both ways; having reached a certain level, an organization may suddenly enter into a fast growth. A similar effect may occur when the nucleus of revolutionary unionx pop up at several different places within a short period of time. There is even something to a name: the reaction an organization will be met with, it will be different when presenting itself as a propaganda group for an idea to be implemented somewhere in a distant future, than if it presents itself as a union-building organization based on certain principles. If a revolutionary union is what you want, it becoms essential to start building a structure which may be put in use (on a small scale) in the here and now for practical solidarity, and as such be viewed as a functional too by others.

However refined the methods of co-option are made, the winds of discontent will always be blowing. Recreating anarcho-syndicalism involves fanning the flames of discontent and disrespect towards bosses. But the structure must be there to channel and give extended life to these winds, suppling them with some direction and a greater strength by bringing them together. Our task consists in bulding direct links of some permanence between workers locally, within the limits of the state and globally, and from the workplace to the communities in which we live. And as an essential, integrated part of this, opening up spaces for collective discussions where the dream of a society beyond capitalism can be nourished.

At the present stage, building the structures of revolutionary unionism must be seen as a vehicle to awaken this dream within the working class of a world beyond capitalism. It is very hard to see how this could be done to any large extent within the framework of corporative unionism. Corporative unionism is beyond the state of reform. It must be deconstructed. Therefore also the importantce of an open anarcho-syndicalism.

Open Anarcho-Syndicalism

An open anarcho-syndicalism implies that solidarity is extended beyond the membership: To on a micro and macro level think in terms of the working class as a whole, and develop links of solidarity and practical coherence to the rank and file and local branches wholly or partially controlled by workers within the bureaucratised structure of the corporative unions. The union principle has no meaning outside a union of solidarity, which ultimate measure is not membership but practical solidarity.

While the workplace is the obvious point of departure for anarcho-syndicalism, it cannot see it as its limit, something which would tie it to the logic of capitalism. An instance of beyond-the-workplace-unionism is the struggles CNT has been engaged in against the closing down of the shipyards of Puerto Real, near Cadiz in the south of Spain, where the struggle was extended to the communities as a whole and to the conditions of life within them:

Every Thursday of every week, in the towns and villages in the area, we had all-village assemblies where anyone who was connected with the particular issue, whether they were actually workers in the shipyard itself, or women or children or grandparents, could go along to the village assembly and actually vote and take part in the decision-making process of what was taking place…

What we tried to do in Puerto Real is to show that the anarcho-syndicalist union is not just an industrial organization that takes on factory disputes, but rather has a much wider social and political aim. What we have tried to do in Puerto Real so far is to attempt to interlink various different disputes, taking on various struggles around education, around the provision of health services, cultural aspects, and we have been struggling against the proposed construction of a new golf course, the privatization of the cemetery, we have been fighting against various local tax increases…

Pepe Gomez of the CNT, October 1993. From “Anarcho-Syndicalism in Puerto Real,” published by Solidarity Federation/La Prensa, 1995. P.O. Box 73, Norwich, NR3 1QD, U.K.

Direct action in the anarchist sense means making as far as possible the means into the ends, and thus bringing about a re-arrangement of the world on a small or large scale. By using our potential industrial power to accomplish this, we may not only bring about modest changes in our lives, but put our own and other worker’s imagination on fire, opening up our eyes to the wide field of our potential powers. This is even more important in a time where capitalism has super-imposed itself as a social factory on increasingly larger parts of our lives, and where the division of labor has been driven to such extent that it becomes increasingly difficult to see, through the fog of atomization, that it is we who are producing this world as a whole.

It is often said, that even if large-scale revolutionary unions was still a possibility, they would never be able to organize the entire working class. This most likely is very true. At least it is not very wise to base a strategy on the opposite at this point in history. Thus membership should never been seen as an end in itself but as a means. There can be only one end: an all-inclusive global society borders, classes and hierarchies, and consequently also without states, and in the here and now to practice this as far as we can. But for this we have to start building the links between workers. Links which once created, we will gladly share and extend to others so long as it is on the basis of practical, non-hierarchical solidarity.

“Change to Win” labor fed collapses

A few years back, many labor “radicals” pinned their hopes on the new “Change to Win” labor federation, which promised to step up organizing and build a more powerful labor movement based on sectoral unions. Today, Change to Win is in ruins, and the piecards are fighting over the remains.

As we noted in ASR 37, there was never anything remotely democratic – let alone revolutionary – about the new set-up. The bulk of the new federation’s “organizing” was through cooperative deals where employers specified in advance which operations the unions would be given representation rights at, and what (if anything) workers would get. Much more money was spent on politicians then on organizing, and none of the new federation’s unions were internally democratic. This was, at root, a split based on bureaucratic maneuvering and titles, not strategic vision.

As Change to Win was forming, UNITE (textile workers) and HERE (hotel and restaurant) merged to form a new union that had nothing to do with the heralded sectoral strategy, but rather was a marriage of convenience between one set of union bureaucrats controlling a great deal of money and many functionaries but few members, and HERE, which had members and organizing campaigns but little money. When HERE elements recently took control of the union, UNITE HERE president Bruce Raynor decided to annul the merger and take the assets (a bank, benefit funds, buildings, etc.) with him. The Service Employees sought to capitalize on the break-up, setting up an interim Workers United to amalgamate UNITE Joint Board-controlled locals into SEIU. (Raynor resigned just as the union was removing him from office, and joined the SEIU staff as “president” of Workers United.) The whole operation is now in disarray with both sides fighting over who controls which contracts and which dues streams. Employers are taking advantage of the situation to stall on bargaining, and stop collecting union dues through the check-off. Jurisdictional disputes, raids and law suits are on the horizon as far as the eye can see. (But at least some publications are benefitting in this difficult media economy from full-page ads taken out by SEIU urging readers to lean on UNITE HERE to accept their offer to let it keep $50 million of the union’s funds and divvy up the members through binding arbitration.)

SEIU faces its own internal strife as a result of its take-over of its West Coast healthcare affiliate, leading the former officials to launch an independent union that promises democracy (not that the officials were great champions of rank-and-file unionism before they came up against the Stern machine). In response, SEIU cut a deal with the California Nurses Association (which recently merged with the United American Nurses and joined the AFL-CIO) to end their bitter war and divide up the hospital workforce. (Many of the workers traded in the deal are outraged.) The United Food and Commercial Workers is struggling to hold on to its existing members, and has no strategy for organizing new ones. Of the CTW affiliates, only the Laborers are in decent shape.

Change to Win and AFL-CIO officials are now meeting with the independent National Education Association (which never belonged to either) about (re) uniting, though thus far the AFL-CIO is insisting that Change to Win come back with their tails between their legs, refusing even token concessions to the breakaway bureaucrats.

UPDATE: In These Times reports that the United Food and Commercial Workers (whose president heads  CtW) are in the process of returning to the AFL-CIO fold, which would leave just SEIU, the Teamsters and the United Farm Workers (a husk of its former self) in Change to Win.