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We Need To Look At Democratic Alternatives (Introduction to Anarcho-syndicalism)

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We face a challenge, a series of challenges, challenges that, although comparable to others in history, are unprecedented in their sheer scale. Collectively, we are increasingly becoming aware that our economic system, in its current kleptocratic and destructive form, is unsustainable.

 

We have seen the globalised financial sector crash the economy, socialising the costs, privatising the profits and under the false premise of ‘too big to fail’ (in other words, untouchable due to their threats of capital flight or risk of complete financial meltdown) these conglomerates have managed to coerce the US & UK governments to issue emergency stimulus packages in the form of quantitative easing, flooding the banks’ balance sheets with cheap taxpayer money, with the naïve hope that it would somehow encourage the banks to begin lending again. This did not occur. Instead these banks and the wider financial services sector regrouped, deleveraged and became more powerful than before the crisis, while the banking reforms (Basel & Dodd Frank), meant to fix the myriad of problems that caused the 2008 recession, have been largely ineffective and lacking in any teeth. We therefore have not seen accountability for the largest systematic fraud ever seen, smashing the social contract to smithereens; the management have only congratulated themselves with large bonuses and golden parachutes.

We sat back and allowed it to happen. During this period of immense corporate profits, ordinary workers have not seen salaries increase, only stagnation while the cost of living balloons. We have witnessed the gradual and deliberate erosion (NHS & Fire Service) of the labour rights and the vital social protections our ancestors took baton blows to the head for.

 

As citizens of famed liberal ‘democracies’ with long struggles for democratic representation that have shaped our perceptions of each other, society, our roles (collectively and individually) in society, we are often under the assumption that voting every four or five years represents the extent of democratic participation.  While not voting, due to political disillusionment, or participating in demonstrations against brutal austerity measures, are frowned upon by the limited party political system and the London based mainstream media.

While at the same time, nestled snugly between election cycles, vested interests lobby governments and finance election campaigns in return for favourable reforms and legislation that helps the bottom line (such as a relaxation of the corporate tax rate or increased government subsidies), these policies often conflict with the interests of the wider community and workers, the surplus producing majority, and only seek to benefit moneyed interests, the vastly wealthy minority who appropriate the surplus value.

 

We will spend an average of 90,000 hours at work over our lifetimes. Our workplace, whether that is the driving seat of a bus or an impressive office with a view looking over the city, is where we end up spending most of our waking hours.  Within the current economic system, the nature of our work, the organisational and ownership structure, is inherently hierarchical. Top down decision-making, which consistently prioritises short-term financial concerns over all other factors (whether or not decisions taken actually help the long-term sustainability of production) is the traditional organisational form of private and state capitalist enterprises. This traditional model is so prevalent and ubiquitous we often ignore or scoff at the potential for democratic alternatives that could exist at the workplace where employees feel a strong sense of pride in the fruits of their labour rather than the overwhelming feeling that if one were replaced, there would be no discernible difference to the quality of the product or service

 

We need to redress these imbalances – To insist that democracy can and must be far more than going to the ballot every five years. It is to congregate with likeminded individuals with similar concerns and campaign as one entity (with multiple aims) to fight for democracy at work and proper local, regional and national community representation. This means that at the workplace, employees need to organise together and demand democracy at work, press for increased decision-making powers that empower workers rather than turn them into commodities or assets. Demand a remuneration policy that has been agreed by consensus by all workers in the enterprise. Decide together what products or services the enterprises provide, where to operate, and most importantly how to distribute the surplus value.

 

Only when citizens organise, educate and mobilise themselves can we hope to face these challenges and have any hope to affect change.  The current political and economic paradigm – the Washington Consensus – does not allow for alternative voices, and the media behaves likewise setting the boundaries for topics deemed suitable to discuss. Any ideas or concepts beyond the limited framework are dismissed, treated with derision and finally regarded as deluded.

In order to affect real change for ourselves, our loved ones and our communities we need to collectively organise as one unified group campaigning tirelessly with creative direct action for a multitude of issues, such as homelessness (here & here), drug rehabilitation, women’s rights, gentrification (Focus E15 & New Era), police brutality (Ferguson & France), Fracking and lack of democratic participation in everyday life (Occupy Democracy). These can be small symbolic acts of direct defiance against a corporate culture that doesn’t care, or persistent unfailing pressure for your cause to be heard. As Howard Zinn put it “Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.”

 

In Hoxton, the resident’s of the New Era estate have faced threats of eviction after they were notified that rents would ‘have to be increased to market rates’. The rise will push the tenants, majority are livelong residents, out of London to provincial towns such as Hastings where they haven’t any roots, contacts or emotional support networks. In response they have been organising and campaigning as a community for nearly a year and it was only recently that their cause has garnered media attention. Despite the occasional lukewarm reception they came prepared with an astute use of local organising and social media that they have used to pressure the £110 million realtor firm Benyon Estate, owned by MP Richard Benyon, to sell their shares of the New Era estate. Although it is an important victory, the tenants are aware their struggle is far from over.

 

At workplaces around the world, numerous large protests and timely industrial action has taken place campaigning for an increase of the minimum wage. In the US the workers of the Fast Food industry, where typically very little union activity is allowed, have taken matters into their own hands by striking to raise the minimum wage to $15. Nationwide strikes have taken place as thousands of workers stood firm and blocked the streets of major US urban centres.  As of writing this protestors have been triumphant in forcing San Francisco and Seattle to pass city ordinances that raise the minimum wage to a liveable $15.  They were impossible to ignore. After all, where are we going to get our burgers?

These workers, and the communities to which they belong, are forcing change locally, standing up to the miserly corporations, demanding more secure work that enables their families enough money to provide a stable and happy home life (dietary needs, education & health costs), and for the right that allows workers to unionise without fear of reprisal from their employer.

 

Similar action is also happening in Europe; in the UK the Fire fighters are protesting against pension reductions and in Belgium 100,000 public and private sector workers recently marched into Brussels against austerity budget cuts. We must recognise that whatever the colour of our collars, or whether we handle a pen, food or genitals at work, it is imperative that we are to be treated with dignity, to be rewarded fairly for the true value of our labour and not the purely financial value the ‘market’ imposes. 

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Discussion 2 Comments

  • Alex of... 2nd Dec 2014

    can’t argue with your general premise here!

    “In order to affect real change for ourselves, our loved ones and our communities we need to collectively organise as one unified group campaigning tirelessly with creative direct action for a multitude of issues”

    i think that is the right direction, but i would frame it as multiple groups for multiple issues with a need to network toward common goals, which is trying to address the core problems that create those issues.

    best ways to go about creating those ties, resonance, what is termed as like-minded, is a constant question, which i think, for anyone serious about this should engage-in to develop specific models, and pull back from to look at from an outside perspective to see if it is working, and learn from to reshape the method. and we should not have to be so tired :)

    as someone who lives in Seattle, so familiar with the efforts toward increased minimum wage, i can say that, while deriving from initially, that Socialist Alternative running Kshama Sawant, was important in that achievement. she, Jess Spear, and their organization, pushed that issue into public attention and city politics. achieved was a graduating increase to give time to adjust.

    ok, obviously a higher minimum wage is not the long-term focus. so there are two things on that i’m thinking.

    one, how is that achievement being funneled into longer term goals?

    two, would Socialist Alternative be welcomed for their methods, or as some kind of affiliate within the IOPS aims?

    as two goes, they are largely focused on running candidates and creating awareness of issues to stimulate the discourse. they largely see this as a kind of Leninist vanguardism, but i’m sure their many variations between individuals.

    as one goes, if number two is not recognized by IOPS, then IOPS will likely have major difficulty approaching its aims.

  • Alex of... 2nd Dec 2014

    damn auto corrects! not writing on my usual format. delete the first comment! couple minor changes. i'll just re-post for that...

    can’t argue with your general premise here!

    “In order to affect real change for ourselves, our loved ones and our communities we need to collectively organise as one unified group campaigning tirelessly with creative direct action for a multitude of issues”

    i think that is the right direction, but i would frame it as multiple groups for multiple issues with a need to network toward common goals, which is trying to address the core problems that create those issues.

    best ways to go about creating those ties, resonance, what is termed as like-minded, is a constant question, which i think, for anyone serious about this should engage-in to develop specific models, and pull back from to look at from an outside perspective to see if it is working, and learn from to reshape the method. and we should not have to be so tired :)

    as someone who lives in Seattle, so familiar with the efforts toward increased minimum wage, i can say that, while not deriving from initially, that Socialist Alternative running Kshama Sawant, was important in that achievement. she, Jess Spear, and their organization, pushed that issue into public attention and city politics. achieved was a graduating increase to give time to adjust.

    ok, obviously a higher minimum wage is not the long-term focus. so there are two things on that i’m thinking.

    one, how is that achievement being funneled into longer term goals?

    two, would Socialist Alternative be welcomed for their methods, or as some kind of affiliate within the IOPS aims?

    as two goes, they are largely focused on running candidates and creating awareness of issues to stimulate the discourse. they largely see this as a kind of Leninist vanguardism, but i’m sure there are many variations between individuals.

    as one goes, if number two is not recognized by IOPS, then IOPS will likely have major difficulty approaching its aims.