What is Anarcho-Syndicalism?

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Anarcho-syndicalism combines movement for political liberty with the movement for economic liberty. Anarcho-syndicalists believe that formal democracy is not enough. Citizenship rights do not mean much when elections can be bought by wealthy campaign contributors and the media is controlled by large corporations. Nor does democracy
exist when communities and even
national governments are held hostage to
l a rge monopolistic corporations that
threaten to withhold investments or runaway
to other countries unless laws are
“business friendly”. Local communities
and workers should make the decisions
that affect their economic livelihood.
Anarcho-syndicalists believe that
democracy can only be achieved through
the abolition of wage slavery. Wage slavery
exists wherever workers must give
up their rights in order to earn a living.
Workers should be involved in decisions
about wages, working conditions, safety,
and economic planning to the extent that
these decisions concern them. Just as citizens
in our country believe there should
be “no taxation without representation”,
neither should there be work without
representation. The highest authority in
any workplace should be the general
assembly of the workers themselves. No
managerial duties should be delegated
except by election of the workers. Managers
should have limited powers and be
subject to recall.
In order to abolish wage slavery it
will be necessary for workers and local
communities to take ownership over the
means of production and distribution.
Any workplace that
is not currently
owned by those
who work it would
be turned into a
democratic cooperative.
Small businesses
would function
as before with
the exception of
those employing
workers outside the
family. Local communities
provide essential
public services like
health care, transportation,
utilities, elementary education
and so forth, by making contractual
agreements with workers in those fields,
and paid for by a tax on the cooperatives.
Banking and investment would be a joint
arrangement between the worker cooperatives
and the communities. Activities
beyond the scope of a single community
or single industry would be organized by
federations of multiple communities and
industries. These federations would be
accountable to their members.
The way anarcho-syndicalists will
bring this about is by organizing workers
into worker-run unions. Anarcho-syndicalists
call this “building the new society
within the shell of the old.” To realize its
true potential the labor movement needs
to function the same way as the future
society. Union officers should be limited
in their powers, and accountable to the
members. T h e
assembly of all
union members
must be the highest
authority in any
union local or
branch. W h e n
w o r k e r-run unions
represent the
majority of the
labor force, they
will be in a position
to shut down the
autocratic side of
the economy and
start up again in a
democratic and
cooperative way.
Anarcho-syndicalism has had some
success in practice. The labor movements
of many countries have unions
that are influenced by anarcho-syndicalist
ideas. The Industrial Workers of the
World is such a union in the United
States. So far the peak of the anarchosyndicalist
movement was achieved in
Spain, when during the Spanish Civil
War many industries within Republican
Spain were under the control of worker
collectives, until the rebel military junta
aided by Hitler and Mussolini crushed
the loyalists. There are more recent
examples of labor movements producing
sweeping social changes. In the 1980s
the Soviet Union was undermined by the
Polish Solidarity movement, which
deserves more of the credit for “winning
the Cold War” than does Ronald Reagan.
During the same period, the labor movement
of South Africa played a similar
role in ending the apartheid regime. Currently
there is a growing workers’movement
in Argentina that has begun a series
of takeovers of factories that were threatened
with shutdowns by their owners.
To find out more about anarcho-syndicalism
there are some websites you can
visit. The Industrial Workers of the
World can be reached at www.iww.org
and the magazine Anarcho-Syndicalist
Review, can be found at www.syndicalist.
org. Perhaps the best known anarchosyndicalist
in the United States is Noam
C h o m s k y, who has written numerous
books on media and foreign policy
issues. The best introduction to anarchosyndicalism
is The American Labor
Movement: A New Beginning by Sam
Dolgoff, available thorough the Anarcho-
Syndicalist review. Other books
written by Dolgoff, such as The Anarchist
Collectives and Bakunin on Anarchism
are also recommended.
B. Salt lives in Champaign-Urbana
and has been active in the IWW, and the
labor movement for several years.

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