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Debate on Australian Anarcho-Syndicalism
indonesia / philippines / australia | anarchist movement | debate Monday June 26, 2006 19:15 by mark - Anarcho-Syndicalist Network rworker at chaos dot apana dot org dot au 440 Parramatta Rd Petersham NSW Australia 02 95509931
Rebel Worker replies to the Melbourne Anarchist Communist Group
A Debate over how anarcho-syndicalist mass would emerge in Australia and how the Anti-Capitalist Milieus are confronting the current intensifying employer offensive associated with the Howard's New Industrial Relations Legislation.
This article is based on a talk given by Greg of the Melbourne Anarchist Communist Group (MACG) during a recent tour of Britain sponsored by the Anarchist Federation and the following discussion.
The Liberals took control of both houses in the recent elections and now finds it much easier to drive forward a reactionary agenda, primarily the breaking of the social contract which has governed post-war political, social and industrial relations. This agenda has been greatly facilitated by the collapse of the Australian Communist Party, politically and organisationally. The working class has been effectively disarmed by this collapse, rates of union membership and recognition have fallen dramatically and rank-and-file activism has declined..
The Liberal government is reactionary but also has been tactically astute by following the outlook of the times and only pushing for ‘reforms’ that are popular or it can win. These ‘reforms’ enable them to create a rightwing atmosphere. Any unified response has been patchy and the unions have played a limited role in facilitating and linking resistances. There are lots of slogans but only limited action..
ID Cards are a big issue in Britain at the moment: what’s the situation in Australia?.
This is a relatively new issue that the government has floated but which they may not go ahead with. The MACG’s response has been limited due to a lack of resources but it would certainly advocate and get involved in resistance to ID cards and identity registers..
Traditionally there has always been a strong syndicalist current within working class struggles during the last 100 years and this has meant union bureaucrats have had to be far more receptive to the views of rank-and-file members, despite conflicts within the unions. But more recently the bureaucrats have strengthened their grip on the members through the formation of ‘super unions’ and by tightening membership rules and procedures. The Liberals introduced ‘enterprise bargaining’ in 1996, which outlawed industry-wide collective bargaining and agreements and pitted company against company, worker against worker. This weakening of bargaining power caused a massive decline in union membership, from 50% of the national workforce to only 25%, to which the traditional unions and bureaucracies had no answer. In contrast, Left-led unions have won successes through ‘pattern bargaining’, running industry-wide campaigns which can then be applied to individual companies..
What are the concrete reasons for the decline in unionisation?.
Firstly, a decline in class-consciousness. Secondly, unions have been ineffective in defending wages and other terms and conditions. Thirdly, traditionally industries where unions were strong have suffered from massive restructuring; newer industries has lower levels of unionisation. Fourthly, restructuring has led to downsizing of big companies (where unions were more tolerated) in favour of smaller companies and casual work forces. Finally the 1983 accord between the ACTU and the Australian Labour Party created a framework for restructuring while at the same time the Communist Party of Australia abandoned the working class, leaving it largely defenceless..
The globalisation of poverty wages
Unions in retreat, workers press forward
Leftism vs Anarchism
Are you a “platformist” organization, believing in a single, unified organization and strategy?
There are also, of course, many non-aligned anarchist bookshops, zines and groups such as the Libertarian Workers and the MACG itself. Unlike most other groups, the MACG has a strong class struggle analysis and orientation and has thrown itself into the various struggles, talking to working class militants in their own language, demanding that the rank-and-file take control of the campaigns as part of developing their understanding and experience of direct action and democracy. Edited.
I would like to comment on some of the points raised in the above article by Greg. In his discussion of the Communist Party and its role in the Australian labour movement and Anti-Capitalist milieus, he fails to adequately discuss its contradictory aspects and legacy. Whilst, the Communist Party in its heyday via its grass roots activists played an important role in assisting grass roots activity on the job in many industries (1), it was also a key transmitter of many unwholesome Machiavellian practices, particularly during its Stalinist phase from the late 20’s to the mid 60’s..
THE STALINIST LEGACY
A Garden of Leftist “Poisonous Weeds”
That is groupings which are largely “existential”. They exist for their own sake providing “pseudo families/tribes” for those seeking to escape the alienation of capitalist society and maintaining the elitist activist lifestyles of party gurus via the recruitment of naive new members on the basis of an ever changing merry go round of “campaigns” on every issue under the sun. They are hostile to encouraging a climate favourable to debate and research essential for the development of strategies to facilitate the “workers’ control” project. It is more this problem which precludes major assistance from leftist groups for grass roots fight backs against the present Howard Government and Neo Liberal offensive and the lame duck and traitorous role of the union hierarchy. Not the “divisions” and different groupings, Greg complains about. After all different groups could put out grass roots publications in important industries in different states and regions to help out grass roots self organization and direct action. Subsequently, they no doubt would become more coordinated in their efforts. However, Leftist groups which wave different flags are generally not pursuing such useful work today. .
An exception to this sorry state is the work of the ASN which in contrast to what Greg has to say, has contributed to “major” grass roots successes. Particularly assisting militants defeat of a restructuring for privatisation push in the N.S.W. railways in 1999, which would have led, if successful to the privatisation of remaining Govt. owned industry in N.S.W. and other significant initiatives (3). .
Lately ASN activity to assist the grass roots has expanded in quite a range of spheres such as Canberra buses, maritime transport and the fire brigade. However, our priority is not “building the party” and the recruitment of middle class/student elements through pandering to various exotic fads and aimless activism. But assisting the grass roots to establish a mass syndicalist union movement, which must mean strategic organizational work. .
This “outside the job” activity assisting “on the job” activity and organization has always been a key aspect of syndicalist activity. It is this sort of activity in contrast to Greg’s fascination with purely “spontaneous” activity of workers which has led to sectors of the labour movement taking on a syndicalist direction. An important example is of course the N.S.W. BLF in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.The grassroots movement which pushed the union in a syndicalist direction involving grass roots control of union decision making, limited tenure of office for officials, “workers’ control” actions, such as the “green bans”, etc in these years didn’t just occur “spontaneously”. The Communist Party played an important role in bringing militants together and producing its journal the “Hoist” to establish a grass roots movement. Whilst Communist Party militants who were BL’s were influenced by the “workers’ control” push influential in the party during its “destalinisation” phase in t he late 60’s & early 70’s. (4).
Certainly, this sweeping talk of “spontaneity” by Greg, seems as an excuse for the disregard of assisting on- the- job organisation in industries and workplaces which would make sense as part of a strategy to establish mass syndicalist unionism..
Such an approach would take account and assist militants in getting around on-the- job obstacles to their activism e.g. intense speedups, networks of “bosses stooges”, increased surveillance, long shifts, legal difficulties, etc, involving long range serious work. Militants need this kind of nitty gritty sustained assistance, not just abstract “arguments” and “preaching from the outside”.
1. See “A Few Rough Reds” Ed. Hal Alexander & Phil Griffiths.
2. See “Feminism & Class Struggle - A Document is Distributed” by Peter Siegl on the internet for an excellent analysis of this curious mixture of Stalinism and Identity Politics amongst Leftist groups.
3. See “Anarcho-Syndicalism - Catalyst for Workers’ Self Organisation” on our web page www.rebelworker.org for a analysis of some serious syndicalist activity in Australia in recent years and today.
4. See “Tales of the BLF: Rolling The Right” by Paul True, which examines the emergence of the rank & file movement in the BLF in NSW during the 1950’s. For a discussion of some of the syndicalist features of the NSW BLF in the late 60’s & early 70’s see “Green Bans/Red Union” by V. & M. Burgmann”, unfortunately its warped by the “identity politics” fashionable in the academic leftist milieu.
From Rebel Worker – Paper of the Anarcho-Syndicalist Network
Vol. 25 No.2 (192) June – July 2006
Web Page www.rebelworker.org PO Box 92 Broadway 2007 NSW Australia