International Solidarity and the IWW

May 18, 2017 – A.A., B.S., S.B., C.D.

Introduction

On May 13-14, a meeting of revolutionary unions occurred in Frankfurt, Germany. This was the follow-up to the meeting which occurred in November 2016 in Bilbao, Spain, which was called by the CNT (Spain), USI (Italy) and FAU (Germany) for the purpose of creating a new international organization of revolutionary unions.

 

The 2016 IWW Convention instructed the GEB to send delegates to these meetings with concrete proposals for international solidarity, but that any organizational proposals should come back to the membership through Convention or Referendum. FWs AV and CD were sent by the GEB to the Bilbao conference.

 

In their report from Bilbao, AV wrote that we should “discuss and formulate some basic dealbreakers for our participation. It really felt like the organizations driving this effort were ready and willing to turn over a new leaf and make this new international totally different. I think it is worth our continued involvement and seeing this through,” and also that they recommended participating in the next meeting via Skype.

We ended up having BS, SB, and AA participate in the Frankfurt meeting electronically.

 

Description and notes

Due to the time differences, our participation in the meeting basically consisted of video conferencing with a small number of people at the end of each day (2 from the FAU in Germany and 2-3 from Rocinante in Greece). Most of the conversation was them reporting back on what had been decided that day, and asking if we had feedback on any of the issues that had come up. For the most part, there were not many things where we felt we needed to comment, as the decisions were almost entirely along the lines of what we had agreed we would want to see. AA and BS were present on Saturday, and Sunday had BS and SB. 

 

The following organizations had delegates

4 from Spanish CNT

2 from IWW GLAMROC

2 from Workers Initiative (Poland)

1 from ESE (Greece)

4 from USI (Italy)

2 from French CNT

2 from IWW WISERA

Many from FAU

30-35 in total.

FORA (Argentina) participated electronically at the same time as us in a Spanish-language call, but they sent written decisions with the Spanish CNT.

Rocinante (Greece) participated electronically on the same English-language call as us.

 

FORA, Spanish CNT, USI, FAU, ESE, IP, and Rocinante have already committed to joining the project

IWW GLAMROC and French CNT are observers, have not yet formally decided whether to join the project

IWW WISERA have a “provisional” decision to join the project, they are “more than observers but less than full participants”

Saturday, May 13

BS and AA present. Met with two members of the FAU (Germany), One from IWW Germany, and two from Rocinante (Greece).

Discussion begins at 12 noon Eastern.

Discussion of decisions of first day:

Note: All decisions below are only in effect until the first Congress, they can be changed at that first Congress.

 

  • Continuation of IWA vs new project.

 

    • Most participants would prefer to start something new, rather than try to reclaim the heritage of the IWA. It was agreed that this is about moving towards starting a new organization, not reclaiming the IWA.
  • Discussion of voting systems. They discussed this first.
    • They agreed that decisions should be made ideally by consensus, but if consensus is not reached then it should be by 2/3.
    • Discussion of whether each organization would have just 1 vote, or it would be proportional. They agreed on a logarithmical proposal from the FAU so that at the first congress, each organization would have between 1-5 votes depending on their size. The larger organizations have fewer votes per member – a compromise between 1 vote per organization, or direct correspondence between member numbers and votes.
      • Result: At the first congress 2/3 majority will be required for a vote to be passed. Weighted voting will be used as follows:
        • 75-424    1 Vote
        • 425-1546  2 Votes
        • 1547-4243       3 Votes
        • 4244-9999       4 Votes
        • 10000+   5 Votes
    • Minimum number of members for a union to join: the original proposal was for 100, but this was modified to 75.
      • There was a proposal to go down to 50, but 75 was agreed on as compromise.
      • Rocinante bring up the problem with IWA, that it was controlled by small organizations
      • FAU explained that in the context of IWA, the small groups had between 3 and 30 members.
    • It was agreed that there can be more than 1 organization per country participating in the new project.
    • Discussion of “Initiatives” and “friends” is put off to the first Congress – provisionally:
      • “Initiatives” are smaller anarchist or revolutionary unions that want to take part but do not meet qualifications (eg less than 75 members).
      • “Friends” are groups that may choose not to join for other reasons, or may not be eligible, but want to be a part of the network.
      • However these definitions are just examples, they will be formally defined at the first Congress.
  • Discussion of principles for unions that will participate:
    • Participating unions should be bottom-up.
    • They should be anarcho-syndicalist or revolutionary unionist. They discussed what they mean by “revolutionary unionist.” By revolutionary unionist it means that they should stand for change of the existing order, ie revolution. This means that unions which take part will not be required to identify as anarchist.
    • No support for political election campaigns. There was consensus.
    • There was a rather long discussion about state funding. The discussion was whether organizations should be “independent” of state funding or “free” from state funding.
      • IE if they are “independent” they might receive some state funding, but it should be something they are not “dependent” on, that they could drop if need be and still function as a union. (The example is the French CNT, who receive some media subsidies from the French government, but are not dependent on these subsidies for their union activity.)
      • The other side was that organizations should be “free” from state funding and not receive it at all.
      • The compromise was that they should be “free” of state funding but that individual regional contexts should be weighed. This was a compromise, but this is also just for the initial invitation to the first congress. At the first congress, this can be more clearly resolved.
      • Agreed-upon language: “Refusal of state funding as a union, whereby regional context shall be taken into consideration”
    • Discussion of more practical issues:
      • Per capita contribution:
        • Spanish CNT had proposed that per capita dues for the project should be 0.10 Euros per member per month.
        • WISERA and IP stated that this would be quite heavy.
        • This was put on the agenda for the first Congress. Therefore there is no current expectation of per capita contributions for this project.
      • Financing the first Congress:
        • The FAU said that they would contribute financially to the Congress, but none of the other organizations present have taken any decision yet.
        • USI may host it in Italy.
    • Lead-up to the first Congress:
      • Deadline for Congress proposals will be end of October 2017.
      • There will be a two-month period for organizations to consider the proposals, until the end of December 2017.
      • The founding Congress is envisioned for April 2018.

Discussion:

  • BS states that the issue of state funding is not particularly applicable in the North American context as unions here become dependent through dues checkoff rather than state funding. The IWW prohibits dues checkoff.
  • AA also states that the IWW prohibits working with political parties.
  • BS mentions the position of the IWW, that any organizational decisions will be made at our Convention in September.
    • FAU asks: if we do decide to take part in September, how would we engage in the timeline for decision-making in the lead up to April 2018, particularly the timeline for proposals between October and December?
    • BS responds that this would probably have to be figured out at the Convention. If clear information is given about this timeline beforehand, this would give better information to the Convention to figure that out. If nothing else, specific questions could be put to a referendum.
  • From Rocinante:
    • They have decided to take part and join the initiative.
    • They disagree with the decision to lower the minimum size from 100 to 75. They want to make sure that the organization is composed of real unions and not dominated by tiny sects. However perhaps with the proportional voting this may not be a huge issue.
  • Discussion of organizations which participate in other coordinations:
    • FAU mention that there were two organizations (IP and French CNT) taking part in another coordination (Red and Black Coordination). Both organizations  mentioned that they would want to take part in this initiative but also not to leave the RBC. This was a non-issue for anybody else present.
    • SAC from Sweden did not participate in Frankfurt due to operational issues, but sent a message wishing good luck.
  • Other discussion:
    • BS mentions that there is something of an open question about how various IWW bodies might choose to participate, however given that there are some groups from Red and Black Coordination participating without issue, this also seems like a non-issue.
  • BS mentions the suggestions for card exchanges and organizer exchanges.
  • Groups are invited to send observers to the IWW Convention in Montreal in September.
  • There were more groups from Latin America present at the Bilbao conference. Has there been more contact? (No) This is something where some collaboration might be considered in the future between the IWW, CNT, FORA, and other groups.

Discussion ends at 1:19 PM Eastern.

 

Sunday, May 14

Brandon is present at 8 AM Eastern. Also Demetrios and Yorbas from Rocinante (Greece).

 

Brandon and Rocinante had a discussion while waiting:

Rocinante said that they are primarily based in Athens with some presence in other cities. They have multiple industrial branches in various sectors. Most interesting was the healthcare branch, which organizes healthcare workers as well as people on long-term disability who do not have access to wage labor. Brandon asked about the mood in Greece after Syriza signed the Memorandum. They said that it was complicated, because the period from 2008-2012 had had some of the most militant struggles of recent history, but without any clear victories, so people were demoralized and ready to let Syriza save them. Now it’s unclear how people will go. Rocinante also mentions the refugee crisis, that despite Syriza’s anti-racist rhetoric, they are implementing the EU’s anti-refugee directives.

 

Roger and Mahmood (FAU – Germany) join at 8:23 Eastern

  • First point on the agenda for Sunday was to discuss who would host the founding Congress. It was agreed that there would be no more conferences/preparatory meetings, but the next meeting will be a founding Congress.
    • No organizations currently have a mandate to host, however at least three delegations expressed some interest in this, although the organizations would still have to discuss this: USI (Italy), IP (Poland), FAU (Germany)
      • USI will be the first to discuss this, provisionally the idea would be to host the Congress in May 2018 in Italy.
      • FAU is ready to host a second or third Congress in Berlin in Dec 2022-Jan 2023 (100 years after the founding of the IWA in Berlin, which the IWW was also present for).
    • Agenda for the first Congress:
      • Workers Councils / Professional Elections
      • Review of voting system and elections
      • Membership fees
      • “Friends” and “initiative” status
      • Name
      • Legalization
      • Statute: Statement of purpose, how often will take place (possibly every 2 years?), process for orgs to join
      • Secretariat
      • Crossborder organizing
    • Coordination between the Congress
      • Spanish CNT proposed a coordination of 1 or 2 people from each union that have decided to participate as a full member. This was accepted.
      • This coordination would use a mailing list, document sharing etc and make plans prior to the first Congress.
      • This coordination would also assist with cross-border union action, and with reaching out to other organizations that might be interested in joining.
      • The coordination could also carry out other tasks such as organizing solidarity for migrant workers, etc, as it has capacity.
    • Discussion about cross-border organizing
      • Primary example was the Deliveroo union.
      • One of the results of the Bilbao conference is that IWW-Bristol set up a website for Deliveroo and Foodora drivers.
      • This has had positive results – for example, between 25-30 riders  joined the FAU in Berlin. They formulated 5 demands, which they shared with other riders, and called a meeting with 140 riders. Those demands have been sent to Deliveroo/Foodora management with a deadline of 5/16, if there is no response there will be a picket at the Berlin headquarters of Deliveroo to pressure to negotiate. The longer term goal is to organize a strike.
      • There have also been contacts with riders in Hanover, Frankfurt, etc.
      • The IWW (WISERA) discussed that they have had more contacts with riders after this website went up. Most riders in UK are freelancers, unlike Germany where they are formal employees.
      • The French CNT are in touch with a collective of Deliveroo riders in Paris and will continue meeting with them.
      • The IP (Poland) said there is no Deliveroo or Foodora, but there is another company where they are trying to contact the workers.
      • Spanish CNT said that Foodora is not present, but Deliveroo is present in Madrid, Barcelona, and is trying to expand to more cities.
        • They have translated the union materials into Spanish and distributed to branches to be ready to use.
      • USI (Italy) said that Foodora is only present in Turin where the USI only has a few members.
      • ESE (Greece) says there is no Deliveroo/Foodora, but there are moped couriers who will strike on May 25.
    • Summary: The website created as a result of the Bilbao conference has led to results in multiple countries. The international meeting began at the Bilbao campaign, the IWW UK created a video, which the FAU was able to show to riders and now there are 30 riders in FAU Berlin.

(Stefanie joins at 8:44 Eastern.)

  • International solidarity
    • At the Bilbao conference, the USI requested solidarity funds for their organizing in earthquake relief in central Italy.
      • FAU raised funds and asked for a brief report.
      • USI have used the money to reconstruct roofs in a small mountain town near Rome. They are also part of the creation of a network where local producers are getting into direct contact with earthquake victims. They have bought a few technical things like field kitchens and generators which can be used in the villages affected by the earthquakes, but these can also be used to support strikes or in migrant mobilizations.
    • CNT-Valencia had a conflict with a subsidiary of Ford, who asked for international solidarity a couple of weeks ago.
      • On the day of action, FAU locals in several cities had pickets at Ford dealers.
      • The CNT also gave a big thanks for the picket in Minneapolis.
      • The conflict was settled with an agreement out of court. It turned out that several of the co-workers were ready to appear in court to speak against the fired worker, so it was settled out of court.
    • Stefanie speaks to possibility for international solidarity regarding Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee. There has been interest in London, etc. The model could easily be copied in other countries.
      • Question is how does prison abolition look in other countries. In the United States it’s very different, it’s even very different from state to state.
      • The question is how do we adapt to fit needs in different states or in different countries.
      • The last three years we’ve seen a lot of growth with the IWOC project. This alone could end up chartering new IWW locals.
      • Mahmood brings up that there is a union of incarcerated workers in Germany called GGBO, it’s nearly as big as the FAU. Perhaps this union could be invited to take part in this coordination, and this coordination could then be used to coordinate prison organizing.
      • The GGBO are close to the FAU and IWW but have not joined because they don’t want the extra observation by the state of being tied to an explicitly revolutionary organization.
      • Stefanie mentions that state repression has also become a problem in the US, however they also prioritize political education of IWOC members to study revolution and to be revolutionaries.
      • Stefanie asks about size of GGBO. Answer is ~500 in 30-32 prisons.
      • Brandon asks if they have a legal status and if they are affiliated with any reformist unions. Answer: it’s not necessary to have a legal status to be a union in Germany, but once you are in prison in Germany you lose your status as a worker, so the work is not treated as formal wage labor or under the same protections. They can be forced to work for cents at a time, with no social security contributions etc. Also, the GGBO are independent – not tied to any of the reformist unions. On local level they have ties to the FAU and German IWW as well as some reformist unions.
    • CNT cited the example of the IWW’s fundraising campaign to support Hex as a good way to make a call-out for funds. They pointed this out to USI and ESE as a good example of how to ask for solidarity funds.
    • Mahmood says that there is a lot of interest in sending observers to the IWW Convention in Montreal. At least it’s likely that the FAU will send someone.

Call ends at 9:15 Eastern.

 

Conclusions

In her report from Bilbao, FW Vargas wrote that she “was also super energized by the meeting with IP and FAU about amazon, and I think projects like that are the biggest reason we should continue along this path and participate in whatever this becomes (as long as it’s good). Having a strong network of revolutionary unions engaging in campaigns across the world with the same companies, coordinating that action and solidarity– it’s beautiful to think about and I think is really worth staying involved in this IF it seems like it will lead to that.

 

The common organizing at Deliveroo/Foodora, spreading from the Bristol IWW to the Berlin FAU and the French CNT in Paris, with a possibility to continue spreading into Spain, Greece, and other countries is a great first sign that this international coordination could serve to really spread revolutionary union organizing past national borders and make all of our organizations stronger together. The Deliveroo union would not have spread as effectively as it did without the meeting in Bilbao that brought our unions together. The Ford pickets, and the possibility of coordinating prisoner organizing, are two more promising signs. It seems clear that all of the unions which are taking part in this coordination have a common orientation towards revolutionary organizing at the point of production, to internationalism, and against sectarianism. This is a very promising sign.

 

In his report from the Bilbao meeting, FW Cole Dorsey wrote: “As long as the ‘points of unity’ that are drafted don’t conflict with any of our core IWW beliefs (like prohibiting “anti-political” sects) and the focus remains on building solidarity and sharing skills I think the IWW-NA should be a part of this ‘new IWA.’ I think it could greatly aid all participating unions by expanding our reach and impact against our common enemy.

 

In fact, all of the “points of unity” and structural proposals line up perfectly with what the IWW could want from this kind of international body. Structurally, the other unions are clear that they want nothing to do with “anti-political sects” – this international body is only for unions. Similarly, the other principles that were agreed on are in line with our beliefs, and there is nothing that would require us to make any compromises.

 

It also seems that there is not going to be any issue about the IWW having its own international structure at the same time that IWW bodies might choose to engage with this coordination. As mentioned, WISERA have already provisionally decided to participate – nobody has raised any issue about this and there is no reason it needs to be an issue.

 

Maybe the most important point to make is that it is now clear that, if we decide to participate, we will be participating in the creation of something new, on equal footing with everyone else. We will not just be “joining” the IWA or any other existing body, on somebody else’s terms. This shouldn’t even be thought of anymore as “the new IWA”. It is something else entirely. We can help determine exactly what this will actually look like, and we can make sure that it is the type of body that will help to organize workplace-centered revolutionary unions on a global scale.

 

Given all of the above, we believe that the question of affiliation/participation in this body should be up for discussion at the 2017 Convention. Based on the decisions that were taken and the direction that this initiative is moving in, we think NARA should decide to be a full participant and prepare to take part in the First Congress in May of 2018. We would encourage any branches which have reservations or points of concern to raise those as transparently as possible. They may be things which can be turned into proposals for the First Congress, or they may be issues which the membership agree warrant deciding not to participate.

 

If NARA does decide to participate, we will have to agree on a way to consider sending proposals for the First Congress prior to the October 31 deadline, and how to consider counter-proposals prior to the December 31 deadline. This is tricky as we do not currently have any good process to have a union-wide discussion or make decisions between Conventions – we hope the Convention would be able to figure this out.  We would also have to choose 1 or 2 members to participate in the coordination body leading up to the Congress. It is possible that, if we do agree at Convention to participate, proposals for the Congress could be considered directly at the same Convention. Since proposals for this founding Congress would not be proposals for the IWW Convention itself, we think they would not need the same 90 day requirement ahead of time.

 

Concretely, we propose the following:

  1. The question of whether or not NARA will affiliate with this initiative and participate in the founding Congress should be as early as possible on the Agenda for the 2017 Convention in Montreal. If no Branch has yet placed this topic on the agenda, the GEB should do so immediately. If the Convention decides in favor of affiliation, a commission could work during the remainder of Convention to resolve details and consider proposals which the IWW might make to that founding Congress. The commission could bring its work back to Convention before adjournment for approval. The work done on the International Structure Reform Proposal during the 2016 Convention provides a good example of how this can be done.
  2. The General Administration should distribute this report as well as those of FWs Dorsey and Vargas to the membership as broadly as possible, along with the final minutes from Frankfurt, and other relevant documents. It should make clear that the question of affiliation to this initiative will be considered at Convention so that Branches can consider this carefully. It should also make clear that, if Convention votes in favor of affiliation, it will be possible to for Convention consider proposals to the founding Congress of this initiative. Branches should be encouraged to consider possible proposals that the IWW might make for that Congress. Since these would not be proposals for the IWW Convention itself to decide on, but rather to send to this founding Congress, the Administration should make clear that they would not be subject to the normal 90 day deadline for Convention proposals. (If need be, the Convention delegates could make a parliamentary ruling to confirm this point.)

 

For international labor solidarity and the Cooperative Commonwealth,

Arianna, Brandon, Stephanie, Cole

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