The media vs. the union leaders – don’t take sides, make sides!

To briefly summarise developments over the last few days: the struggle in Greece continues to escalate (as ever, Occupied London is the best source for updates, and contra-info is also worth a look), China may be on the verge of a massive social explosion, and six people have just been sent down in the UK for alleged involvement in anti-fascist activity. Meanwhile, the prominent hacker group LulzSec have apparently decided to get out while the going’s good, days after posting a massive amount of material taken from the Arizona police accompanied by an explicitly political statement. It’d be pointless to present lulzsec as being some kind of saints – a lot of their activity has just been simple trolling, and has occasionally been seriously anti-social – but they definitely represent a huge advance over the aimless nihilism associated with much of internet culture.
Of course, the main story is that June 30th is finally approaching. What happens over the next 24 hours could seriously affect how the rest of the struggle plays out. Or, then again, it might just be like March 26th, which pretty much left everyone in the same position that they were before. I’m sure anyone who takes enough of an interest to read this is probably already aware of what’s happening in their area (see here if you’re in any doubt), so I’ll just take a moment to highlight the amount of solidarity activity that’s been organised by claimants, a group who are often overlooked in comparison with the unionised workers so beloved of the left.
In the run-up to the strike, most of the mainstream media have been attacking the union bosses – see the Sun and the Mail for some examples. This is a classic example of how setting the terms of a debate can be more effective than winning it. Anyone reading these articles can choose to tut over how dreadful the unions are, or, if they have that peculiar mixture of solidarity and gullibility so common on the British left, they can choose to agree with the TUC spokesperson claiming the unions are incredibly democratic. But there’s nothing in them that gives even a hint at the real story, which is that the union bosses, like all bosses, are indeed overpaid scumbags and enemies of the ruling class, but this is entirely irrelevant to the attacks that workers are facing at the moment. Prentice, Serwotka, Blower and the rest don’t need to worry about their pensions or pay (they might be acting a bit more lively if they did), because they get paid by the unions, not the state. The union leaders didn’t make the decision to go on strike, the membership did that by voting for strike action, and they won’t even be stopping work on the day, they’ll be carrying out their normal jobs as union leaders. And yet, in the funhouse mirror of the media, all differences between the leadership and rank-and-file disappear, so the fact that some people employed by the unions earn lots of money somehow becomes an excuse for attacking some people who are employed by the state and earn average amounts of money. The false choice of siding with Murdoch or the union leaders helps to erase even the possibility that we might be able to fight for our own interests, against every kind of boss.
A similar kind of false choice haunts those of us active in the anti-cuts movement: are we respectable peaceful protesters or mindless violent hooligans? I’m not interested in apologising for the Black Bloc, but we need to get around the problem that anarchists engaged in property destruction are immediately recognised by all sides as anarchists, whereas anarchists doing anything else tend to just be seen as “anti-cuts activists”, or striking workers, or UK Uncutters… if we don’t make our identity clear, we may even be mistaken for footsoldiers of whatever Trot group happens to be making the most noise at the time (see here for some discussion of this issue). Without disowning the need for militant tactics, we need to make it clear that that’s not all we do, and we don’t suddenly stop becoming anarchists just because we’re handing out leaflets or standing on a picket line instead of smashing windows or spraypainting walls. But “being visible as anarchists” has its own issues: starting conversations with striking workers who you’ve never met before is always a bit tricky, but some variation of “hello, I’ve heard about what’s happening in your workplace and I want to support you” has the potential to start a meaningful conversation of some kind, whereas turning up with an attitude of “hello, I have possession of the correct ideology, and I have come to your workplace so that you may receive it” is always a dead end, no matter how good the ideas themselves are. There’s no hard-and-fast rules here, because you can’t really write guidelines for having conversations with people, but we should always try to be honest and open enough that people don’t go away thinking “wow, those people who came down to support our strike were nice, but I wonder who they were?”, while also always concentrating on the need to have actual two-way conversations, rather than just reciting pre-prepared speeches of anarcho cliches. As ever, there’s no magic formula for getting it right, you just have to try and work it out for yourself.

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About nothingiseverlost

"The impulse to fight against work and management is immediately collective. As we fight against the conditions of our own lives, we see that other people are doing the same. To get anywhere we have to fight side by side. We begin to break down the divisions between us and prejudices, hierarchies, and nationalisms begin to be undermined. As we build trust and solidarity, we grow more daring and combative. More becomes possible. We get more organized, more confident, more disruptive and more powerful."
This entry was posted in Activism, Anarchists, Internet, Strikes, The media, Unemployment/claimants and welfare and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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