How can a genuine rank and file worker's organisation develop and grow without being infiltrated and destroyed or taken over by parasitical political groups or hierarchies ?
There are plenty of examples where this has taken place (e.g. recently the UK's National Shop Steward's Network fiasco), but are there any others where this has been prevented from happening ?
Carlos, I'm not really in the loop with the NSSN so don't know what you mean. Also, whatever has or hasn't happened, rank and file NSSN comrades are still welcome to participate in this group. That said, your question is still an important one.
Rank and file movements and organisations can all too often be tied to one or another political grouping and I don't think this is helpful to our cause. Without mentioning any names, some political groups are known for taking over all sorts of campaigns and organisations. To be honest, I'm not 100% sure how to stop this sort of thing from happening but having an awareness that this kind of infiltration goes on and being vigilant is probably a good start. Also, any rank and file movement that is genuinely controlled from below may be less easily taken over.
In short, the NSSN fell victim to the machinations of the Socialist Party (it's no secret) which caused the mass resignation of the syndicalists (including some FW's).
This is a classic example which should be studied by anyone trying to set up a genuine rank and file organisation 'from the bottom up'.
For the grisly details start here:
Unpleasant though that is, it's not uncommon and it won't be the last time we'll see shennanigans and machine-politics from a political group with its own agenda. The competing and often cynical maneuvering of certain more influential left groupings in the UK is probably a big hindrance to building any effective rank and file organisation and we need to be aware of this from the outset. But as you say, the question is how do we prevent it?
My thoughts are:
Any national rank and file organisation would need to be federal in structure.'
I'm totally in agreement although certain FW's in a certain 'national' organisation have openly stated to me face to face that they do not agree with this model.
The local federal organisations should not be too big in numbers, so that people can vouch for one another and know one anothers history. Outside political affiliations should be declared and made public.
'Recallable delegates from workplaces or industrial sectors and who are elected at the local level and acting on strict mandates from those who have directly delegated them'.
Absolutely, but we must also organise outside the 'workplace or industrial sectors'.
We need to include the unemployed, housewives, homeworkers, retirees, etc.
We also need to organise in rural as well as urban areas.
I am in general agreement with all your other points.
Are you familiar with Staughton Lynd's book Solidarity Unionism - Rebuilding the Labour Movement from Below ?
I'd agree with all that.
On unemployed, housewives, homeworkers, retirees, it would be more valuable if there existed strong local unwaged groups rather than particpating as isolated individuals with rank and file wage workers; in other words, something like the old Claimants' Unions of the 70s and 80s would be a start.
I've heard of the Lynd book but never read it.
Last year, the Bristol mob started a 'Claimants' Union type group. The only problem was that within a short time the main initiator of the group got himself a job and the whole thing fell apart.
Homeworkers and unemployed do not have anything particular that binds them together.
I can recall my experiance as part of a rank and file group while I was working in a car factory back in the 70's.
Sadly we had poor contact with the local 'Claimants' Union' who had pretty negative opinions about those who indulged in 'wage slavery'. Fair enough, nobody in their right mind actually 'likes' alienated work.
Admittedly, today's unemployed are less likely to be voluntry.
There were however people in our rank-and-file group who did not work 'inside' the factory but who served a usefull 'solidarity union' function by distributing leaflets outside the gates (these were written in conjunction with us on the inside). The 'outsiders' identities were not known to the management so the 'group' was protected from repression by both the Company and the 'Business' Union. That is how i understood one of the possible functions of the GMBs (sadly, some people don't get it).
In the 70's, DRUM (Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement) used the same model in Detroit.
An organisation which segregates industrial workers from their comrades outside the workplace is not enabling the usefull cross-fertilisation of different experances.
Lynd gives the example of a Worker's Solidarity Club.
"The Workers' Solidarity Club can best be described as a parallel central labour union, to which rank-and-file workers, unemployed persons, and retirees can come when they need help in their various struggles. Several members wrote about this Club:
We wanted a place where rank-and-file workers could go to get strike support without a lot of hassle and delay. We were disillusioned with big national unions that encourage their members to "pay your dues and leave the rest to us."
"We were called "rebels" and "dissidents" but we believed in solidarity, and we wanted a way to see each other regularly, share experiances, laugh at each others jokes, and dream up plans to change the world."
"From the beginning, the Club has been extremely informal. There are no officers exept the treasurer. Two members get out a monthly notice describing what is expected to happen at the next meeting. Individuals volunteer (or are volunteered at the last moment) to chair particular meetings. If there is a speaker at a particular meeting, the person who invites the speaker is likely to become chairperson. There are no dues, but by passing the hat we have raised hundreds of dollars for legal defense, publications, and travel expenses. We also raise money by selling bright red suspenders with the words "Workers' Solidarity" silk screened in black. Beer at the end of every meeting, and annual picnics and Xmas parties, keep us cheerful."
From, Solidarity Unionism page 15.
DRUM on here.
I think its fair to say the Solidarity Unionism approach is broadly supported in the US and Canadian IWW. I would recommend Staughton's Solidarity Unionism, Stan Weir's Singlejack Solidarity, Alexis Buss' The Union on Own Terms. And the debate in the Industrial Worker at the moment is worth following.
Definitely worth reading is Poor workers' Union by Tait. A form of solidarity/minority unionism is practised by a lot of community-based worker organisations in the USA that is almost entirely under the radar.
The Leicester initiative sounds a lot like the 'parallel labour central' idea that Staughton Lynd advocates.