London in Struggle
The London group of the Anarchist Communist Group held a discussion meeting on March 25th, focusing on three struggles going on at the moment: organising workers in west London, fighting against land ownership and inequality, and universal credit. For each struggle we considered: what are the issues and why is it an important struggle, what strategies and tactics have been adopted and what challenges exist in order for these struggles to be effective.
Organising in west London
The speaker from Angry Workers presented the work they are doing with the IWW in west London. They consciously chose an area of London where there is a high concentration of factories, in this case food processing, with hundreds of workers who are poorly paid, have difficult working conditions and little or no union organisation.
Their strategy consists of leafletting factories and helping to organise meetings with workers who are interested in fighting back. Some of them are also working in the factories. They do not necessarily promote the big actions such as strikes. These would be difficult to organise and could lead to victimisation. They think that power in the factory can be changed in more subtle ways, eg working to rule. They are not against working with any union structure that is there but their experience is that the union itself is ineffectual. In addition, they have set up neighbourhood solidarity networks to help people with issues such as unpaid wages. They have had some successes with this.
The speaker’s analysis of the challenges was very insightful. Their experience of organising shows the concrete obstacles faced when trying to build a revolutionary working class movement. For example, the divisions within a workplace, created and exploited by management, are a major problem in workers effectively organising. For example, in one of the factories there are people on ‘permanent’ contracts and agency staff. The ones on permanent contracts tend to be Asian women from the subcontinent who have been in the country, and in the job, for some time. The agency staff are mainly east Europeans. They even have to wear different coloured hairnets! There are also conflicts over religion. Another problem is that people often put forward their own individual issue so it is difficult to gain unity around collective issues. Even though they have had some successes in getting people to meetings and saying they want to do something, it is another thing to sustain this, often when there are communication problems and immense pressure on workers not to get involved.
A discussion followed with one person raising the successes of unions like the United Voices of the World. However, the speaker pointed out that in those cases the workers had already decided to take action and came to the UVW for support. It is much harder to start from scratch. Nothing can happen until the workers themselves decide that they are willing to take risks. All anyone ‘outside’ can do is offer ideas and support.
There is no doubt that this organising project faces big obstacles. However, if we are ever going to build a working class revolutionary movement, this focus on the factories and surrounding neighbourhoods is essential. It will not give quick results, but it will be the foundation that will make it possible to transform, rather than just tinker with, the current system.
A member of the ACG, who is involved in the Land Justice Network, presented the main issues around land, how the fact that we do not have control of what happens to land, including so-called publically-owned land, is at the heart of struggles around housing, food, social and community space and the environment.
The positive features of building a campaign around land are that it is an issue which in theory could unite as all in a movement to abolish private property, the basis of capitalism. However, the problem is that most people are heavily involved in more specific campaigns, eg housing, food, saving a community space, anti-fracking and have little time to devote to another campaign. This is understandable because it is the practical, concrete struggles that are fundamental to building a movement. The only hope is getting many more people to get involved in campaigns so that we have the resources to do all the things we need to do. But how to do this? A question for us all to think about.
The speaker presented the serious problems caused by the introduction of universal credit and suggested that it could potentially be the next poll tax. However, currently there is a lack of a big campaign, apart from notably exceptions such as the Disabled People’s Against Cuts https://dpac.uk.net/. We discussed why this was the case. One person suggested that this issue does not affect enough people, unlike the poll tax. Also, universal credit affects the most vulnerable who may not be in a position to organise a campaign. For this we are reliant on solidarity networks who have the resources to bring a range of people together. But even these groups, such as the Haringey Solidarity Group (https://en-gb.facebook.com/haringey.solidaritygroup/) have problems getting enough people involved to be as effective as they would like.
All these struggles are very important, both in terms of supporting people in the here and now and for building a revolutionary working class movement.
There are many challenges to being effective. We need to be honest about these and work together to learn from our experiences and devise more effective strategies.
Many more people need to get involved in these practical struggles and in making links between them
NATIONAL DAY OF ACTION AGAINST UNIVERSAL CREDIT ON APRIL 18th
Organised by DPAC.
London action. Meet 11am outside visitors' entrance to House of Commons. Local actions as well including in Sheffield.