Keir Snow's blog

Are you a campaigner or an organiser?

Most people reading this blog will have participated in some form of political campaign.  Indeed campaigns, whether to save the local library or earn workers a living wage, are the bread and butter of left wing activism.   Sometimes these campaigns are won, sometimes lost. Sometimes, all too often in fact, we find ourselves having to fight the same campaign all over again.  Clearly there are many factors that determine the fate of a campaign but crucially only some of those factors are within our power to alter.

Any campaign is made up of the same basic ingredients, popular participation, finance, activists etcetera.  The degree to which a campaign is well funded, its ability to mobilise people and its shrewdness of tactics all have a concrete effect on its outcome.  Most campaigns, whilst often run by seasoned campaigners, find themselves starting from scratch with regards to much of this.  A bank account must be set up and funds raised to populate it.   Activists must be trained in various skills or learn on the job how to manage the media, build demonstrations and negotiate with officials.  Contacts lists must be built and websites must be created.

Class warfare

Class war is a concept immediately familiar to most those on the far left and indeed is sufficiently well known as to receive the occasional reference in the mainstream media. As with all concepts we use to understand social forces, it colours how we think about our political activity and influences how we act day by day. Consequently is worth re-examining to tease out our understanding and see how such concepts can be usefully applied and extended.

Concentrating our forces

The left is undeniably weak.  Compared to our capitalist adversaries we have little in the way of finance and none of our organisations are as powerful or organised as the state.  We need to be able to punch above our weight, and to increase our capacity so that eventually our resources enable us to force lasting social change.

So how can we ensure we get maximum bang for our activist buck? An obvious response is to concentrate our meagre forces so that our combined focus and strategy allows us to win things we would not usually be able to.  The opposite of this, a scatter-shot approach, frequently results in resources being spread too thinly and consequently failing to make an impact.

A brief history of Syndicalism (part 2)

Meanwhile, stateside

Whilst never explicitly syndicalist the Industrial Workers of the World, founded in 1905 in Chicago, clearly had a lot in common with their syndicalist comrades elsewhere around the globe.   The primary instigator in this new union was the Western Federation of Miners, a highly militant industrial union. The WFM sought an alliance with various socialist organisations and smaller unions to create a national union body outside of the craft-focussed American Federation of Labour.  The AFL represented craft-unionism par excellence, its member bodies being forcibly split along craft lines on pain of expulsion.

In contrast to this divisive stance the IWW not only advocated industrial unionism but that there should be one union for the whole of the working class.  After all, they all ultimately had the same interests.  Somewhat optimistically the IWW saw itself as the basis for this One Big Union and this positioning often lead to an antagonistic relationship with the far larger AFL.

A brief history of Syndicalism (part 1)

It started in France

The Confédération générale du travail, formed in 1895 in France, is widely regarded as the grandfather of the syndicalist movement.  Within its ranks socialists alienated by party politics, radical republicans and anarchists joined forces to forge a new movement; revolutionary syndicalism.  In a short space of time syndicalist ideas came to dominate the CGT, at the time the only sizeable union in France.

What is syndicalism?

Syndicalism is the belief that workers should run their own workplaces some that they may be administered effectively and democratically.  Through this workplace control, exercised nationally via labour unions, workers could wield democratic control over the whole economy.  Labour unions are key to this idea as they have the potential to organise and socialise large numbers of workers together, on the basis of fighting for their collective interests and to increase their collective power in the workplace.

Strength in the union

Unions have forever been a socialists friend, often at the centre of exciting periods of revolutionary activity such as Red Clydeside or the Spanish revolution.  However today’s unions seem a far cry from the revolutionary militancy of yesteryear and so it is worth asking the question, why should socialists and radicals today care about unions?

Some ideas for union renewal

In order to create a better world we, the working class, need power.  Such power can only come through collective organisation around the one thing that unites all members of our class - work.  But trade unions, the bodies with which we socialists attempt to create such collective organisation, are in decline.  If we are serious about building trade unions and winning them to socialist ideas then we need to come to the table with ideas of how to reverse this downward trend.

The traditional left wing approach has often been to argue for greater militancy, an approach which has been discussed elsewhere on this blog.  However there are other less obvious but perhaps even more important possibilities for trade union renewal.

Socialist sounds

Podcasts are to radio what BitTorrent and iPlayer are to television.  Allowing the user to select only the content that interests them, to listen to at a time of their choosing makes them infinitely more convenient than tuning in and hoping there’s something good on.

General strike?

Much of the far left, most prominently the Socialist Worker’s Party, are campaigning for a general strike.  This demand often takes various form, but the principle is the same, we need a big strike, the more militant the better.  Such demands are beginning to gain traction amongst young radicalised workers and trade unionists,  and so it is worth examining whether this call for a general strike is one all socialists should be taking up.

  


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