The culture of solidarity took a battering during the Thatcherite '80s and booming '90s. An onslaught of right-wing propaganda and the attacks on workers' collective action (e.g. the 1990 Industrial Relations Act) combined to give the impression that you could get ahead by focussing on yourself and your career. This has resulted in both collective action and workers organising in unions dropping off dramatically.
We constantly hear that competition is good and efficient, so much so that you'd be forgiven for thinking that there is no alternative to selfishness and Mary Harney. But the world would be a horrible place if everything was based on competition where the loser got to starve or to die from not being able to afford proper medical care.
Right-wingers point to nature and the Darwinian survival of the fittest and proclaim that there is no place for decency in the real world: what matters is who can win out.
Anarchists turn this argument around. Mutual aid is a vital factor in determining who is the fittest. For we cannot possibly survive on our own. We are physically far weaker than many other animals and nature itself would have us beaten in no time. But by combining with others and using a bit of intelligence we can outsmart potential predators and make use of nature rather than be overwhelmed by it.
And so it is with bosses. On a one-to-one basis they too have greater resources available to them, and it is only by pooling our strength and showing solidarity that workers can resist. This can lead to mutual aid developing out of struggle. A strike is simply workers acting together, rather than going it alone and cutting individual deals with the boss.
Workers who are involved in a protracted strike often seek sympathy strikes from workers in different industries. Such secondary action makes a big difference in the amount of pressure put on the bosses. Unfortunately such actions are becoming rarer due in part to the strangling of struggle by the trade union bureaucracy as well as to the change in wider attitudes as outlined above.
However, though weakened, the sense of mutual aid persists. For example the current bin tax campaign will be won or lost depending on the degree of mutual aid given by people. At the time of writing, campaigners in Fingal have engaged in blockades of Bin Trucks because of the Council's policy of non-collection. This in itself is an example as they are showing solidarity with all of those who have refused to pay the double tax.
They have done really good work so far, but it is possible if they remain out on their own that the pressure will not be enough to cause the Council to back down. The head honchos at the Council - like all bosses - know full well that the best method to defeat people is to divide and conquer. They will implement non-collection first in certain areas where they expect little resistance hoping that no reaction will take place. This way they will isolate the other areas and eventually wear them down.
However, if people in the other Council districts could start blockading trucks, irrespective of whether non-collection has started in their own areas, this would crank up the pressure a lot and hopefully force them to back down.
Such actions are good in themselves and have the added bonus of indicating the future of the anarchist society: people acting for themselves in solidarity with others. The alternative is to have leaders permanently screwing us over.
This edition is No77 published in September 2003