The promise of the new Assembly is a sham and a lie. It has nothing to do with giving people in the north any control over their own affairs. Voting every- four or 50 years in a 'representative' democracy is no democracy.
Real Change Must Come From Below
We cannot effect meaningful change by voting sectarian (or even 'nonsectarian') politicians into the Assembly - real change must come from below. The fight against sectarianism has to be fought in our streets, in our communities and in our workplaces. Politicians won t tackle it as to do so would be to undermine their respective power bases. Beyond this it is highly unlikely that any of our up and coming politicians are even going to consider confronting the assault which capitalism is carrying out against our class. Why should they worry when its estimated that they'll be on £35,000 a year for the privilege of being elected?
We have to destroy sectarianism and change this rotten system ourselves We are not opposed to voting in the elections because we are opposed to 'democracy'. The sham of electoralism is far removed from what anarchosyndicalists mean by democracy, By democracy we mean people managing their own lives and working together collectively to run our communities and workplaces, for our benefit not the bosses or politicians. This is direct democracy, in which everyone who is effected by a decision has a role in reaching that decision.
As well as being our alternative for the running of society it is also the basis on which we run our organisation. Anarcho-syndicalists do vote - for mandated, accountable and recallable delegates. We vote for motions and we vote for actions. What anarcho-syndicalists don't do is vote for someone to go away and take all our decisions away from us.
It is not possible however to build a movement or future society, based on direct democracy alone. Our alternative must be based in activism. in the use of direct action. That is any method for the resolution of problems or disputes which puts those affected in control - without reliance on intermediaries or middlemen
Time to Decide
It is time for you to decide what sort of society you want to live in If you want to be dictated to by communal politicians. if you like being policed by sectarian thugs, with crappy jobs and social insecurity, increasing state intrusion into all aspects of our lives, then go ahead - cast that vote.
If on the other hand you want real change, a society run by the working class for the benefit of the working class, with no government fucking us about, no bosses stealing the wealth we create, and a common bond of solidarity uniting workers, then Don't Vote - Organise!
'Our' politicians may well have came to some sort of 'agreement' on Good Friday, one which may even lead to a very welcome reduction in paramilitary violence, but for the Norths working class 'unity' seems as elusive as ever. The goal of a united Ireland or maintaining the union with Britain are of course nothing to do with the sort of unity we are talking about here.
The basis of a Northern Assembly, Cross Border bodies and 'East - West' relations may now be 'down on paper but sectarianism is far from eradicated in our society. The 'Agreement' isn't really about that however, in fact it institutionalises sectarianism with members of the northern Assembly being required to identify themselves as Unionist, Nationalist or Other (in order to register 'cross community support' - rendering 'other' a non option - in any voting the Assembly may get up to!). What it is about is agreeing the framework in which our communal politicians will disagree in future, and how they go about disagreeing with 'equality of opportunity' and 'parity of esteem'.
The Loyal institutions and residents groups are still showing no signs of talking This is something of a necessity for the to resolution of 'contentious parades, beyond any resolution which will be decided upon by an 'independent' body and enforced by the state. In north Belfast a new 'Peace' wall is to be built to keep the residents of White City and the Serpentine apart in a society which is allegedly on the brink of 'peace'.
Our communities are still sectarian ghettos, and with perhaps the most segregated education system in the world how can we ever hope to break down barriers of mistrust, bitterness and suspicion?
The one hope for our futures surely lies in 'workers unity', but how much of a hope can there be for workers unity in a society such as our own?
All around us any attempts at long term or consistent levels of unity are undermined, but workers have come together and we must draw lessons and inspiration from the united struggles of the Montupet strikers, of DSS workers opposing LVF and INLA death threats, and many more such examples of 'workers unity'.
Workers Unity is not something which can be demanded or called upon by placard waving lefties, it is something which must be built. It is built in very concrete ways around the common problems workers face at their workplaces and in their communities. It is something which occurs naturally when workers as workers are faced with a new attack from their bosses, it is built around the response to 'bread and butter' issues.
'Bread and butter' issues, much maligned by a lefty 'movement' which demands we should go beyond therm are after all the very basis of our class identity. Some seem to have forgotten that it is through our common economic exploitation that we exist as a class. They see the solution in terms of correct political leadership when our exploitation demands making common cause in the face of our common misery. Such a task is never easy, why do you think its called class struggle? Its because it is exactly that, a struggle which must be fought long and hard for and must be won.
Without a union in your workplace, or with one that is more of a hindrance than help, the chances of having effective organisation can seem all too remote and unrealistic. But them again, if things aren't to go from bad to worse to...
Much of the blame for the vulnerable position that today we all- suffer without doubt lies in the complete irrelevance of trade unions to the realities of today's workplaces and their inability to even consider doing something.
This situations far from unique to Ireland. Across Europe the daily lives of workers are much the same, and so is the behaviour and irrelevance of those unions similar to the SIPTU, ATGWU, UNISON, MSF, NIPSA and their like in ICTU.
A bleak situation? Not entirely. The lack of purpose and effectiveness of the institutionalised' unions across Europe has in turn given rise to the revival of workers' unions that have rediscovered the basics of workers' organisation. Namely control by members, organising in the workplace rather than relying on union officials to do (or not) the work, on direct action not that of politicians to win back a greater share of the wealth we create, support for others in struggle (rather than allowing solidarity to become a meaningless term) and finally, challenging the false logic that capitalism and wage slavery are inevitable, by promoting the goal of workers' and community control (not to be confused with the pseudo version of Marxists who seek dictatorship not genuine democracy)
The growth of revolutionary workers' unions in the last ten years has taken place as much in the new 'service' sectors as in traditional manufacturing and other sectors.
The return to effective forms of organisation and resistance has not occurred due to chance and cannot be dismissed as foreigners doing things differently, although the press might have us think so! It is nothing more mysterious than workers growing sick of being sponged off by big unions who never do an!thing meaningful in case it should risk bad publicity, being taken to court, or being criticised by politicians in their hurry to protect the interests of the rich and powerful. Revolutionary unions are returning due initially to the work of very often just a few convinced individuals showing there is an alternative, one that works, and works much better. Invariably it begins with a few like minded people in a particular town, industry or workplace discreetly laying the foundations of trust, unity and solid organisation.
Today in France, Italy, Sweden and Spain there are many hundreds, if not thousands, of workplace branches and regional organisations in the main federated to the International Workers Association,' as Organise! is. Here they face the same problems, the same cynicism, but also the same desire for real change as we do in Ireland
There are of course questions that any person with an ounce of caution would ask after agreeing with this analysis, before deciding to put their ideas into action and play a part in promoting the ideas and organisation of revolutionary unions.
Will joining Organise! - International Workers Association get me the sack?
Organise! - IWA operates with discretion and anonymity in any workplace whilst its members are few in numbers and at the early stages of promoting the ideas of worker-controlled organisation and effective action. Organise! - IWA do not operate pointless paper sales that are "all mouth, no trousers". Obviously the time for a visible presence comes when sufficient preparation is achieved by building trust and cooperation amongst fellow workers. Getting the sack for just "thinking", or being "different" is always a risk, but we do not stand behind but alongside any worker who is victimised and will use every means available to ensure reinstatement. Solidarity, rather than the more typical union inaction, has and does get results.
Wouldn't just two or three people in a workplace or locally in the - same industry/sector never have any influence and never get things off the ground?
In contrast to "traditional" union structures where; the majority in a workplace are members, a few make decisions and none are consulted, we put democracy and effective action as our priorities.
Where as the average union keeps its members uninformed and excluded from decision making, we function with our members themselves (either in their workplace or locally based branch) as the organisers. In this way the three, four or more people who are best acquainted with their concerns make their own tactical, strategy and campaign decisions based on what is most appropriate and likely to get quicker results. Of course, the resources, experience and support of the wider membership is there to be drawn on.
Most importantly Organise! - IWA members in any workplace will seek to involve all other workers in addressing the problems that they all face. In this way we not only promote real democracy based on the free and equal involvement of all workers, but also encourage the decision making on demands and actions to draw on the widest range of experience, which goes to build crucial unity and solidarity.
In this way a small workplace branch can create and have influence far beyond its relatively small numbers, the strength of the workforce being far greater as a collective than as isolated, passive individuals.
This is a slightly altered version of an article which appeared in 'Solidarity Bulletin the bulletin of the Norfolk and Norwich Local of the Solidarity Federation.
The land campaign
During the 'land campaign' of 1919 agricultural workers, organised through the ITGWU, conducted general action across Ireland in pursuit of improvements in wages. Strike action took place across Munster and Leinster, of particular note was the general strike action carried out by workers in counties Meath and Kildare. It was the nature of such action which establishes, beyond doubt the Syndicalism of the ITGWU in this period, along with its credentials as the expression of the One Big Union movement here in Ireland
This action seceded in uniting, for the first time,- agricultural workers with their comrades in the towns and cities, one Union - in pursuit of their common interests.
On the 2nd of July 1919 William O'Brien wrote,
"all over the country the agricultural workers are now threatening for demands to be made on their behalf. In some counties, for instance Meath and Kildare, the war is already on."
The Kildare Farmers Association had, threatened a general lockout following a strike by 60 labourers in Celbridge if work was not resumed immediately. In the face of this threat the ITGWU coordinated a countywide strike which quickly spread to Meath. By 7th July 2,500 members were on strike again 1,100 employers.
BOYCOTT AND DIRECT ACTION
Syndicalist tactics were employed to devistating effect from the start of the struggle. An economic blockade was used against hostile farmers. Pickets armed with clubs patrolled the roads and railway stations to prevent the movement of 'tainted goods', there was widespread use of boycotting in the towns.
The use of sabotage was widespread. Striking workers forced fairs to abandoned, they disrupted auctions, destroyed crops and stampeded livestock
The Irish Farmers Union believed that a victory for them would "shatter the ITGWU in rural Ireland". In an attempt to do just that they tried to recruit unemployed ex-soldiers as scabs at 2s per hour. Very few responded
The use of the boycott was extended through sympathetic action. Outside Meath and Kildare dockers in Dublin and Drogheda were blacking 'tainted goods'.
On 16th August Meath farmers attempted to run a cattle train to Belfast. At 3.30am the train was derailed on its way to Navan. Fifteen feet of track had been torn up and 41 wagons were damaged in this, very effective, act of sabotage.
A smaller shipment of cattle was sent later under heavy RIC and military guard but fellow workers in Belfast also took sympathetic action and refused to handle the cattle, which had to be returned to pasture.
DEFEAT FOR THE BOSSES
This proved to be a serious defeat for the IFU with Meath farmers reaching a settlement on 20 August and the Kildare Association settling 3 days later.
The ITGWU Annual Report for 1919 stated;
"The newly formed alliance of Urban and Rural workers here received its triumphant justification, and the brilliant work of the cattlemen, in Dublin and Belfast, in blocking the sale of stock from the affected counties, deserves a special mention."
Sabotage and violence were inextricably linked to the rural labour struggles of the period which saw workers taking on bosses who were increasingly 'militant' in fighting the class war. The strength of the ITGWU in this period lay in its commitment to sympathetic action. the initiative of its members and in no small part to the syndicalist influences at work in the union.