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Why Anarcho-Syndicalism Remains Relevant Today

Apart from the obvious recurrent global economic crises, we live in a world where some 30,000 children continue to die every day, not because of a lack of resources, but because of a flawed set of economic priorities that places the profits of the rich above all others. As capitalism has gone global, the majority of the population suffer growing absolute or relative poverty, increasingly repressive governments, financial uncertainty, and social divisions. As transnational corporations grow ever more powerful, workers across the world face sub-contracting, migration, “race to the bottom” pay policies and non-contract labour in their quest to earn a living.

In Britain, the added uncertainty of unemployment, pension devaluation and the spectre of home repossession have been thrown into the mix. Amidst a burgeoning financial crisis, millions in taxpayers’ money has been funnelled into propping up a failing financial system and into funding greedy bankers’ ostentatious salaries. As government borrowing goes through the roof, the remaining public services face being sold off, partially or completely, or being ruthlessly cut back over the coming months and years.

Aside from, but linked to the floundering economy, the world is facing a severe environmental crisis, escalating militarism and conflict between imperialist powers over declining resources like oil. Large scale power abuses by corrupt politicians, thuggish police and paedophile priests are exposed in the public domain. As public disillusion grows, increasingly draconian anti-terror laws and population surveillance methods are rubber stamped – measures used to target and marginalise minority groups and dissuade populations from fighting back. These are the inevitable symptoms of a system that always puts profit and power before people.

And what of popular resistance? The old left, social democratic reformism and nationalisation have all failed miserably in their bid to implement anything vaguely representing socialism. The unions, born out of past working class struggle, have morphed into overbearing corporate structures of more value to the bosses than workers. Politicians of all persuasions offer only false solutions and more of the same. Institutionalised sexism and racism still run rife, despite all the politically correct rhetoric about “equality”.

To address all these problems, we need a completely different world system, one based on mutual aid and co-operation. We need to dispense with power structures and markets once and for all. Crucially, we also need to challenge the ideologies that erect false barriers and divide us like religion, patriarchy and nationalism. But revolutionary change can only occur through the conscious will of the majority. A transitional approach, breaking down barriers to build confidence by winning gains in the here and now, is also needed. This is only the first step on the journey to more lasting and substantial social reconstruction. This requires grassroots organisation, constructive action and direct democracy; means by which we can fashion a new world in the here and now. You cannot change the world by throwing stones.

And there are signs that grass roots organisation is beginning to emerge. The workers at Visteon did not wait around for ballots and legal niceties; they took control of their own dispute by occupying the three factories involved. Just as encouraging, support groups were quickly established helping to ensure that the Visteon workers were not left isolated.

Again at Lindsey oil refinery in Lincolnshire workers didn’t bother waiting for the trade union bureaucracy and long drawn out legal processes. If they had the dispute would have been lost. Instead, when 51 people were effectively sacked, the 600 workers took immediate action and walked out on strike. They were soon joined by up to 4,000 contract workers at power stations and oil and gas terminals up and down the country who walked out in sympathy. This mass show of solidarity soon had the employers, the oil giant Total, backing down.

Other instances of workers organising beyond the official union structures include immigrant cleaners in London (covered on pages 12-15) and the actioins of London Underground workers over recent months and years (covered in Beyond the Usual Union Structures in DA46).

Nor is it just in the workplace that resistance is being organised. Schools threatened with closure in both Glasgow and Lewisham have been occupied by parents and community activists. In Glasgow, the Labour controlled council’s decision to close 22 schools and nurseries was met with fierce resistance by local communities leading to a number of schools being occupied. As we go to press the St Gregory’s and Wynford primary schools campaign reoccupied Wynford primary school in protest at the closure attempts. Already they have been successful in blocking attempts by the City council to demolish the school. (The situation in Lewisham is covered on page 10.)

These examples of working class people using direct action as a means of self-organisation are welcome signs of an emerging fight back against the state and capitalism. They come at a time where there is a groundswell of opinion emerging that not only rejects capitalism, but also sees political corruption and intransigence as the inevitable by-product of constituted power. From this consciousness, we believe that a mass global movement can coalesce into an irresistible force for social change. Rank and file unions and horizontally organised communities of resistance can form the building blocks capable of changing the world without taking power. Workers’ self-management, the assuming of economic and political control of the means of life, is a prerequisite to creating the classless libertarian socialist society we desire.

Anarcho-syndicalism recognises that the major crises we face are caused by capitalism and the archaic, outmoded structures and beliefs that prop it up. We seek to destroy all power structures and ideologies that divide us. Anarcho-syndicalism offers a practical means of enacting the wholesale social changes needed to build an ecologically sustainable global community; a community founded on the most positive aspects of human solidarity, freedom and equality.

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