Interview about Folkmakt

•August 6, 2009 • 2 Comments

Folkmakt is a name I began to hear a lot about when I started researching the Swedish movement. Several people who I talked to had started in Folkmakt and then moved onto other things. It seemed to me that Folkmakt was one of the key elements in the Swedish movement’s transition from single issue campaigning and lifestylism to a more class focused perspective.  Several influential groups have come out of Folkmakt, among them Kämpa Tillsammans! and the left communist journal ‘Riff-Raff’. For these reasons I was very pleased to get an interview with a former member of Folkmakt, and current member of Riff-Raff. Many thanks to PH and A, for their help.

1. Why did you decide to set up Folkmakt in the first place? If it was due to some problems with SAC what were these specifically? And what caused you to break with SAC?

Initially Folkmakt (FM) was set up as a sort of discussion group within the Stockholm branch of SAC (i.e. the anarcho-syndicalist union), I think around 1991. Basically the people that organised the discussions were somewhat fed up with the lack of class perspectives within SAC, and also within the libertarian/anarchist milieu in general. The main target was, so to speak, what was identified as the “life-style anarchism”, where politics more or less functioned as some sort of a hobby and a sub-culture. This was also the time around which the crisis at the beginning of the 90s hit the country and, as always, especially the workers.

After a while the rumours spread among activists and anarchists (and some others now being hard to label) in other cities of Sweden. And it was proposed to meet and see if something like a joint project was possible and needed. People from at first Malmö and Gothenburg, knowing each other from the SAC, the anti-fascist movement, common anarchist experiences etc., met and decided to try to form a “proper” organisation. And it was also decided that some sort of publication was needed. There had been produced a few leaflets and a “discussion bulletin” with some texts and discussions and also translations of texts from other groups and persons, and some reproductions from for example a “councilist” magazine Rådsmakt (‘Council power’).

Even though there were no formal break with SAC, which formally would have been impossible anyway, due to the two different forms/organisations (SAC being an anarcho-syndicalist union and FM being at first a small informal group/tendency within SAC-Stockholm), the “hegemonic” tendency within FM – which initially was constituted by the people starting it in the first place – was very critical and fed up after many years of activities within SAC. However, some people remained members to SAC, and some even actively taking part in the organisational stuff.

The main critique, I would say, of SAC was it being a “minority union”, where the vast majority of the workers of by far the most workplaces belonged to LO and their local and trade branches [LO is the national union confederation of Sweden], and it was said to be better being a member of the same union as one’s workmates.

2. What was your relation to other left-wing/activist groups at the time, did you see any connection, or did you think that they were on the wrong track?

By principle I think most people involved in FM considered all left-wing and activist  groups as being more or less on the wrong track. However, on an individual level, and occationally on a group level, many people maintained their contacts to and also activities with especially the activists – not the least “socially”. But, which you mustn’t neglect, FM as an organisation, and also many individuals, mutually withdrew from and were “expelled” by the activists. Especially when it came to the relation to many (anarcha) feminists, who considered FM to be macho and sexist from the mere fact that the vast majority of the members of the organisation were men. And also, of course, because of FM’s strong emphasis on class, which for many activists, and the feminists in particular, could in no way be more important nor more fundamental than other “oppressions”, the male domination over females in particular. Not to forget, the “food issue” was important – since FM never considered vegetarianism being an important issue.

The (mainstream) left wasn’t that important for the organisation – except, perhaps, on an individual level, and perhaps when it came to intervention in the local (LO) union branches on workplaces etc.

3. Can you describe a bit the different political tensions within Folkmakt, between the ‘Class War’ influenced approach and more autonomist Marxist approaches. Were there other factions as well?

At first, at least when it comes to labeling oneself, the ideological tensions were between people (still) identifying themselves as anarchists and those more and more moving towards communism. I mean when it comes to mere labels. However, as always, the term communism is both obscure and ambiguous. Some were perhaps more libertarian communists, and more and more people tended to come closer to for instance council communism. But there were also those calling themselves communists being into national liberation issues, Palestine and (Northern) Ireland in particular. Some weirdos even labelled themselves Leninists.

If we leave aside the level of labels, there was this tension between the Class War-ite propaganda and attitude tabloid tendency that wanted to write for the workers (as “ordinary workers” would read, and talk) with a publication you could bring to the coffee room at your workplace and those more into council communism that became the tendency more interested in “un-populist” stuff such as longer and more theoretical texts. I think you could add those individuals more or less into autonomist Marxism (e.g. Cleaver) to the latter.

This tension was somewhat projected into what form of publication to produce – a tabloid or a magazine. Basically this was the main issue discussed over a long period of time, more or less during the last years of the organisation’s existence. In the end a small group (actually only 2 persons) started a “theoretical” magazine with the name riff-raff whose first two issues were presented as “the theoretical magazine of Folkmakt”, but after that it formally broke free of the organisation. A kind of tabloid was also published for some time.

4. What caused Folkmakt to break up?

Actually, it never broke up! It more or less faded out. I suppose there wasn’t enough energy left in the organisation for a proper break up. (When it finally ceased to exist I had already left the organisation myself.) Some 2 or 3 people tried as the end came closer to draw some sort of a political balance sheet by circulating a sort of a questionnaire to existing and former members of the organisation. Few people bothered to participate by answering the questions, and so in the end no real balance sheet could be drawn.

5. Do you think Folkmakt had a big influence on the movement in Sweden? What kind of things in particular were influential?

Apart from dress-code etc. 😉 Yes, and this is not only self-exaggeration, I think it had. Especially in the beginning. The constant and emphatically talk of “class” was actually very influential. And also, however much later, the theoretical magazine has been quite influential.

Insurrectionary anarchism in Sweden

•July 18, 2009 • Leave a Comment

One interesting thing about the Swedish movement is its rather unusual relationship with insurrectionary anarchism. In most of the English speaking world there is very little love lost between insurrectionary anarchists and more class struggle oriented anarchists, and libertarian socialists. While insurrectionary anarchists might commit to class politics on an ideological level, in practice they are more often to be found penning obscurely worded calls to action against yet another elite summit, or disappearing into the night after some ‘direct action’ against storefronts. Not so in Sweden. When Swedish people talk about insurrectionary anarchism, they usually associate it with workplace struggle, often incorporating some of Kampa Tillsammans’ ideas about Faceless Resistance. What’s more unusual is that many of the same people who are interested in these ideas are also members of SAC, and these ideas have played a role in SAC’s recent re-invigoration.

This peculiar set of circumstances is primarily the work of a small collective called Batko (Batko refers to Nestor Makhno’s nickname, ‘Father’). Batko publish a magazine called Dissident, and have so far put out three issues. The first dealt with platformism, the second introduced insurrectionary anarchism, and the third, er, has something to do with death. Each of these texts contained translations of relevant texts together with some pieces by Batko members.

Batko derive a number of principles from insurrectionary anarchism that form the basis of their approach:

1) permanent conflictuality, that the struggle should never turn to mediation, bargaining or compromise, 2) autonomy and self-activity; that the struggle should be carried out without representatives and “specialists”, and 3) organisation as attack; that the organisation should be used as a tool in the attack against state and capital and not be a goal in itself.”

What is interesting is that all of these principles tie in to recent syndicalist practice in Sweden. The emphasis on conflict as an organising principle is characteristic of many recent actions, and in fact has received significant criticism within the movement.

The critique of representatives and specialists has been applied to the re-organisation of the SAC. The roles of the Ombudsmen as official mediators within SAC have been removed, as part of a broad effort to give workers more power and control over their own disputes. This has been encouraged by the internal magazine Syndikalisten, which has given increased space for reports on local conflicts and disputes.

The critique of organisation as a goal in itself chimes with the new opposition to ‘organisational chauvinism’ within SAC. In practice this means supporting workers struggles regardless of the organisational affiliation of the workers, even if SAC have only one member within a workplace they will still support the workers’ conflicts. Their interest is not in acquiring more members but in supporting the class struggle.

The focus on informal organisation also chimes with Kampa Tillsammans’ discussions of Faceless Resistance. For Kampa Tillsammans, class conflict is more usually expressed through the informal activities of workers within a workplace then through the formal structures of unions. This form of organisation is fluid, consisting of workers thrown together in a specific section of the workplace, or on a specific shift, and tends to be unmediated, because it strives towards direct, small scale goals.

Of course, I don’t mean to imply that the influence of the insurrectionary approach is confined to the SAC, but that’s what I know most about at this stage. Hopefully the comrades from Batko can provide some more info on the influences of their ideas. I suspect that they have also helped to set the agenda for some of the work in Motarbeteren.

Batko also wear a far heavier Marxist influence than most insurrectionist anarchists, they are very influenced by Dauve, and also by Camatte. This is not very surprising, one of the members of Batko, Marcel, was formerly a member of the Swedish left-communist journal Riff Raff. This influence can be seen in the ways in which they discuss history and class composition, particularly in the interview with Sasha from Killing King Abacus. Whereas Sasha argues that the drive towards insurrection has always been present and relevant, Batko argue that this drive is made particularly relevant in the current stage of capitalism where formal subsumption has given way to real subsumption. These are Marxist concepts which refer to the relationship between reproduction of labour and the wage. Under formal subsumption capital pays a wage for labour processes that originate outside of capital, while under real subsumption these processes are re-organised inside of capital itself. Marx’s point about the re-organisation of labour was given a twist by Negri who began discussing the real vs formal subsumption of society. The point of this twist is to imply that all social processes have been re-organised within a capitalist logic, i.e. that all parts of society serve capital in some way,  and I think that it is in this second sense that Batko use the term.

This analysis of real subsumption leads Batko to a two pronged view of the revolutionary process (or communisation as they call it). On the hand, struggle takes place ‘inside’ capital, through a vast array of forms that reject or challenge the capitalist logic such as strikes, riots, sabotage, riots etc. On the other hand, communisation also involves the creation of spaces ‘outside’ capital that provide a glimpse of a post revolutionary society. It’s not at all clear what they mean by this ‘outside’, and Batko do not attempt to unpack it much in their material that has been translated thus far.

As I understand it, the process of communisation is very much the theme of the third volume of Dissident, but unfortunately, none of this material has been translated to English. In fact, unlike the first two collections, the articles in Dissident 3 are largely culled from the Swedish movement, including many original pieces. This suggests that in Dissident 3, Batko have begun to find their own voice, rather than relying on analyses of other currents, but for the moment at least, what they’re saying is lost to us.

‘Dissident’ and the Batko Group

•July 2, 2009 • Leave a Comment

I’ve been intending for a while to write something about the Batko group, a theoretical group that publishes the journal ‘Dissident’. They have published three issues so far, the first dealing with platformism, the second with insurrectionary anarchism, and the third er, I’m not really sure, something to do with death… (it looks great anyway!) Anyway, like an idiot I had forgotten that they have translated several of the texts from the first and second issues, and had spent some time working with the Swedish in issue 2, not getting very far. So here is a link to their homepage in English.

I’m now in the process of writing something, and am reviewing the contents of the second issue in order to get a better handle on their politics. Right now I’m looking at The Anarchist Ethic in the Age of the Anti-Globalization Movement by Killing King Abacus and anarcho-maoist text Anti-mass methods of organisation for collectives, as according to Batko these texts are central to Issue 2.  I actually had read the texts before, two or three years ago, and I can see why Batko were interested in them, particularly the Anti Mass text which I thought was pretty good at the time (ok, except for the weird Mao references…). Anyway,  on we go.

Finished translation of Folkrörelselinje text

•June 19, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Finally got the translation of this text finished – there remains some idiosyncracies in structure that we have left from the Swedish text, but we have altered some of the terms to make it understandable to an Anglo audience. I’m really pleased we got it done, it’s a really good text. The author is describing how she applies a grassroots unionism style to organising within a mainstream trade union and brings up some really interesting points – I particularly liked the criticism of ‘the union world’ (something that I think applies to mainstream and syndicalist unions alike), and the discussion of voting and organising with the whole workforce rather than just the ‘most advanced’ workers.

Grassroots Unionism in the Workplace

by Frances Tuuloskorpi 1996

Working conditions are getting worse and attacks on workers similar to what we on Bagarn (the Baker) had to go through in 1995 are nothing unique, on the contrary. And surely there are others fighting against it. But what is heard most of all is that nothing can be done, that such are the times. But it is that kind of spirit creates such times!

How come we took the struggle and won the way we did?
I think the answer lays in the form of unionism that our club uses. Maybe we would have reacted and risen up against the harsh attacks, even without organizing in that way. But would we have been able to resist the threats for such a long time? Would we who negotiated trust the members to keep going? Would the members have confidence in us struggling on? I honestly don’t think so. We needed all the experience and all the methods we had gotten during several years.

The most important experience we have is that you have to dare to trust in the members.
We at Bagarn are just as fuzzy, slow, bickering and impossible as all workers are – and together we have the same enormous strength that all other workers have.
When we who lead the local union have had confidence in that strength, we have succeeded. When we have missed out on it, forgotten or not had courage to address the members, we’ve fucked up. We had enough experiences of both success and failures to handle a stretched-out struggle.

We gained those experiences during the years we have tried to develop a struggling, independent union ruled by the members.
Our method and our goal is that people should be active, in movement – that is grassroots unionism! The people should take the decisions and the people should act. The ideas we develop should come out of this movement. The organisation should be set in movement, going from experience to experience, from worker to worker, from members to the elected representatives and back again.

Inform the members about everything – speak clearly
We do this, amongst other channels of communication, through our info-paper Livstecken (Life-sign). It’s a simple A4-paper handed out to all members where we try to inform everyone about what’s going on.

Ask, don’t guess, what the members think that the club should be doing.
We use members-referendums, surveys and meetings where we discuss a single issue. When we develop our demands and suggestions, we often run them through a cycle of meeting, survey, meeting and referendum. If the company makes a move or comes with a suggestion, then we have to reach our members to the same extent, and ask them what they think about the company’s latest move and how the club should act. Each time we have thought that we could skip this step, we have overlooked something important – and let our members down.

Not another referendum! Our colleagues sigh sometimes. But it’s better that they complain about us nagging on them, than us not asking them. We would rather ask to often than to seldom. And it is right to put demand on the members, to show them that everything depends on them. That it is a strength for the club to have a members-decision to back it up, and to vote about the deals with the company, probably doesn’t need to be explained.

We don’t just ask what demands and suggestions our members have, but also how important the different demands are. If you ask – what do you want?, you easily get a bunch of tough suggestions. But you also have to ask – are you prepared to fight for it? What does this mean for the company, what will their countermove be? And then what, how far are we willing to go?

Questions like that can make the members soften up their demands – but we make people aware of the fact that we aren’t getting anything else than what we are prepared to fight for!

Don’t underestimate the members!
It’s absolutely fundamental to speak with everyone, to build from the grassroots, and to avoid building a group out of likeminded people or the ones with ‘the highest revolutionary awareness’. If you only focus on those forming ‘the front’ and race away with them, you’ll be stretching the workers-collective out like a rubberband. It will break or lash back.
But if you succeed in getting those who are at ‘the back’ of the workers-collective to get moving, they will push everyone else in front of them!

We assume that all members can take responsibility for their colleagues and the club after their own conditions/prerequisites. During some years, we tried that idea out by appointing each and every member to the role of contact-person (contact agent, contact proxy, contact-ombudsman?). They took turns of one month each to be representative for a group of 12 members.
Everyone took on the task, even those who said they would never take on a union assignment – when the assignment was something that everyone took turns doing, their attitude changed.

But getting the time to gather and discuss with the ‘contact-person of the month’ turned out to be too hard, because of all our different working-hours.
That meant that what they were able to do as contact persons was quite limited, and they ended up mostly just distributing Livstecken (the union paper mentioned above). We gave up on our trial. But it wasn’t because of the members, but because we failed to adapt the organisation to the members real capacity!

When in negotiations – bring the people whom it concerns
When we negotiate we are much better off bringing people who know all the details of the issue from their own experiences. Then, we add experienced negotiators from the board of the local union and that gives us the best results. We also show that the union is the members organisation. And being a part of the negotiations is the best school for future elected representatives – which is all of our members!

Return to the members when things go badly
In union education we are taught how to go to the ombudsman and to central negotiations. And yes, it does happen that we take things to a central level, and we have taken up conflicts in the labor court a couple of times, but that’s not what’s important.
When we say that we go to higher court, we mean the members. Thats what we’re supposed to do in any situation where we’re in doubt on how to act – if negotiations grind to a halt, we’re supposed to report back to our members and ask – Are we gonna back off? Or stand our ground? What are you prepared for?

Use all proposals and initiatives, including criticism.
This should be obvious. But you have to remember this when you’re all busy with what’s already going on, and the members propose something. But you have to remember that there’s always a reason for criticism, so be glad that you get to hear it – if you don’t it’s still there, but growing without any dialogue.

Encourage opposition and discussion in the club
Unity makes us strong. Try to decide what you want and fight for it together. That’s something we tell our members a lot. But to get a solid unity, it’s essential to have a free discussion where nothing is taken for granted.

We almost always use anonymous voting regarding both big and small question. Sometimes members say that they think it unnecessary to write ballots, since we already know what we think. But using anonymous votes is a way of telling each and every member that we want to know what they think. In anonymous voting you can’t listen half-heartedly to the discussions and vote like your buddy or the chairman. You have to think for yourself.

When we count votes, we often find that one or some have voted differently than the majority – even if we have seemed to agree in the discussions. That’s an important reminder that there are many different opinions, and that we should always bring that to the surface and into the debate.

Imagine a meeting where a member argues for an opinion that is deviant from the opinion of the majority. The member is talked and voted down. Maybe he feels stupid after this, and won’t have the courage to say something unpopular again. We try to fight that effect. When we make a discussion, we applause – for the minority. We underline that everyone who comes with proposals and participate in our discussions and debates are coming with very important input for the club.

A lot of times, we reach new conclusions and decisions, because of the discussions we’ve had. With time,we might be shown that the minority was right.

Avoid being sucked into the ‘union-world’
We sometimes talk about ‘pacifying union-courses’. That might sound provocative – knowledge is power, the saying goes. So can education really be pacifying? Yes, if you go to a bunch of union-courses where you aren’t taught to trust your members and use grassroots unionism, then you are learning something else.

This something else might be the union-world that exists in it self and for it self – courses, tools, socializing with other representatives, the party.

‘The union’ becomes something you take a trip to, not the slow work back at your home-club with your grumpy colleagues. If that happens,you’re fucked! The union-world must never be confused with union-struggle. Union-struggle is something you do with your colleagues, nothing else. Everything else is just frills. And those frills might grow into an air-castle if you haven’t built a basis at work.

To sum it up – we’re trying to make the union into an organisation for struggle
This doesn’t mean struggles and strikes every day, but fighting together for our interests.

We don’t ask our colleagues about their political opinions. We take it for granted that since we work together and share the same conditions, we have common interests and will fight together. And when we have faith in peoples common interests and common sense, that’s almost always the way it ends up. It’s with that faith and trust for each other you win struggles. That is what you could proudly call unity on the basis of class-struggle!

It might sound as if we’re sitting on high horses, but this is really simple things – it’s bread and solidarty!

Wildcat strike in Stockholm

•June 16, 2009 • 1 Comment
Workers tell Lagenas President Per Loath how they feel

Workers tell Lagenas President Per Loath how they feel

Workers in the warehouse for the Swedish state’s alcohol monopoly have started a wildcat strike in response to management attempts to replace the workforce with short term workers. Management has been trying for a long time to replace the workers with casualised workers on short term contracts, but now they are using the recession as an excuse for laying off workers, while they continue to hire agency staff. The workers have received little help or interest from their trade union; after a demonstration outside the LO (mainstream trade union federation) headquarters they were promised a meeting with LO representatives, but this was never fulfilled. The workers have refused to return to work and have been joined in their strike by supporters from the local branch of the SAC and individuals from the extra-parliamentary left.

A blockade of the warehouse was successful between five this morning until two in the afternoon when police helped the management to sneak scabs in the back door. Police have taken the unusually hostile step of classifying the action as a demonstration rather than a workplace conflict, which gives them increased powers to harass the strikers. This is a tactic that is often used against strikers from the syndicalist union SAC but is not typically used against workers from the LO (mainstream) trade unions. The strike continues tomorrow when there will be a national day of action. The strikers are expected to be supported by SAC members working in the stores of the state’s alcohol monopoly.

thanks to Altemark for the info.

I am proud, but not content!

"I am proud, but not content!"

Video about Piratbyrån and Pirate Bay

•June 14, 2009 • Leave a Comment

There is a video from a talk given by a member of Piratbyrån at a meeting in Italy online at Bambuser. Although the video itself is quite frustrating to watch (poor quality, jerky camera and constant breaks for translation), the speaker provides a brief history of Piratbyrån which explains where it came from, and its relationship to the Pirate Bay and the Pirate Party.

Piratbyrån (or, the Pirate Bureau) was an initiative from some parts of the autonomous left to draw attention to and politicise the act of media piracy. The bureau was one of several initiatives that came out of a reading group called Stockholm Autonomist Marxists, alongside Roh-nin publishing house, the Women’s Politics Forum, Planka.Nu and others. A bit like Planka.Nu, Piratbyrån wanted to draw attention to and politicise an activity that was already present in society; they tried to create a political context for media piracy and  form a positive identity around it.

One of their initiatives was ‘The Pirate Bay’, which they created in 2004, initially because they could not find Swedish material online. The site soon grew in popularity, partly because the cocky responses that Pirate Bay gave to copyright objectors made it popular with a growing constituency of media pirates.  Piratbyrån decided that the Pirate Bay would work better as a solo project. The Pirate Bay had become a very politically heterogenous project; one of the founders, Gottfrid Svartholm was a right wing libertarian and it had attracted members and supporters from all across the political spectrum.

Unfortunately the video cuts out a bit early so there’s not a lot more info, but hopefully I’ll find some more elsewhere. I would like to find some more info about the concrete activities (past and present) of Piratbyrån, and more specifics of their political analysis.

The precarious – Stockholm after the Gothenburg riots

•June 14, 2009 • Leave a Comment

This is another text from the ‘From Thoughts to Action’  newssheet that was distributed during the European Social Forum in 2008. The group described here, ‘Stockholm United Commuters’ is one of several groups that grew out of the Stockholm autonomist Marxist reading group, together with Kvinnopolitisk Forum, PiratByrån, and others. It gives a good description of how the autonomous movement shifted towards class struggle after Gothenburg, the influences from Marxism, and the forms of struggle that developed as a result.

No one likes to hang out at offices after the working day is done, but when we found ourselves squatting the lobby of the biggest commuting contractor in Stockholm we felt that staying late hours at the office need not be so bad after all. This was during a conflict over union representation that started in the subway, but after taking it to the streets we went one step further and took it to the contractors’ headquarters. The union representative brave enough to speak out about safety hazards in the Stockholm subway got fired, and we as part of the extra-parliamentary left as well, as daily commuters, saw it as an attack not only on the unions but as a threat to our physical safety as commuters.

So we decided to join the struggle under the name ”United commuters of Stockholm”. Since the leadership couldn’t be found in the subway we went to their headquarters. After a few weeks of recurring demonstrations in-house at the HQ we went down again into the subway underground, but this time as a strong collective. We opened up the turnstiles and gave commuters the option of bypassing the bosses and capitalists by paying the ticket money directly to the people driving the trains instead, in support of their upcoming strike. This way we tried to make it possible for people both to imagine and take part in a direct organization of commuting by the people, for the people. It was a success, to say the least.

In just a few hours we raised hundreds of Euros in support of a non sanctioned strike and convinced them to break the law (by passing the turnstiles without tickets) to support it. One of the subway company bosses accidently described exactly what we were trying to do:
-This conflict has turned into a hockey game, and everybody’s cheering for the underdog. And now people from the stands have charged the rink and started fighting”.
This was one of our first experiments with reinventing forms of workplace struggle and it was some of the greatest times we have had to date. It climaxed with a political strike that put the Stockholm subway to a grinding halt. Of course we didn’t win all of it, but the form of struggle that we participated in inventing is hopefully just the start. But to really understand how we ended up there it’s necessary to start a bit earlier:

Summit hopping vs. turnstile hopping

There is no need to repeat the common history of the altermondiale movement in general, but a few words to realign the experience some of us had coming out of the ”summit-hopping” years and bring us up to date. After the wounded in Gothenburg and the murdered in Genoa there was a feeling among us that the space and potentials that erupted with the Seattle events had come to a halt. The summit struggles had a rejuvenating effect on the ability to visualize a critique of capitalism as a totality, but the potential for struggle needed to base itself in the particular and local. With inspiration from Marx and the Operaisti we turned to militant inquiry (a kind of methodical documentation and analysis) to sketch up where the points of desire, rupture and conflict were to be found in our day to day-lives. We found that most of the people that organised within our movement shared the same fluid – in every sense of the word – situation. Most of us had been employed in three or more different jobs in the last year, almost no one had a permanent lease but moved around in different forms of short-term or semi legal housings and the common spaces that intertwined all our lives were commuting, part-time studying and recurring bouts with the unemployment agency.

These are of course some of the features commonly associated with the term ”precariat” – the new fluid subject of immaterial production, affective exploitation and 24/7 subjugation. The theory behind the precariat seemed in line with what we had been discussing even though some of the conclusions as to the liberating aspects of this development seemed premature. We don’t agree that Marx’s’ labour theory of value is rendered obsolete or that the suggestion that the means of production are now already in the hands of the working class, albeit”virtually”. But even though the concept of the precariat seemed irking for clearer definition it opened up new ways to think about workplace struggle and our place within it. The basis for rejecting or accepting this new concept must be the concept’s accuracy and, as this is Marxist theory, its utility.

The starting point for organizing ourselves is always the general features of the people involved. Since we only worked in jobs with a high rate of turnover, our workplace structural power, either in terms of rigidity due to labour laws or by the means to build a strong workplace unity, were all but nil. But in similar terms to the”social factory” we could find other points where our ”associational power” (”the various forms of power that result from the formation of collective organisation”) could come to the fore. We started talking about generalizing concepts where possibilities of collectivity could be found.

A goal: more free time and dole

If locality/location was earlier the main prerequisite for resistance in the factory, the office or the universities (all of these modelled on the prisons) this now seemed less of a possibility for us. Our workplaces never brought enough people together for long enough time to start forming a collective. The places where we most frequently met up with others with the same living conditions, were the unemployment agencies and on short courses in the universities where social subsidies could provide us with short moments of rest between bout of shitty jobs. So we started organizing there. In Sweden unemployment nowadays means being forced to sitting up to eight hours a day applying for the few jobs that are listed, that you’ll never get. So we went there to discuss different ways of escaping the drudgery of these disciplining structures in society. Where were the loopholes, how did you wrangle out some free time or more dole? We opened up our own infrastructure for unemployed people and offered the legal assistance, union experience and cheap coffee as a way to break out of the personal isolation of unemployment. In the same way we found out that some parts of the university seemed to gather most of the people there, not as a way to further promising careers, but as a short term answer to unemployment. We then staked out a part of the university as a haven for those that felt alienated from the ”further yourself” philosophy and searched for a community of likeminded to collectively elaborate means to get by. We organized lectures about things that actually interested us, scanned workbooks and organized protests against the lockdown of the university (which after a short bout of media attention was opened again).

Conflict was another organizing principle. Most of us experienced on a recurring basis the same conflicts on the jobs we had. The six month probation employments (a usual form of employment among precarious in Sweden) never seemed to get prolonged, but luckily the bosses we’re not in tune with labour laws. Again and again the same recipe of internet defaming, activist blockades (with a hint of”we’re just getting started”) made sure that we could squeeze severance pay from the bosses we met. A sort of informal union pledge”If you show up for my blockade, I’ll show up for your” worked well for the short struggles that ensued. Using a common signifier for all those struggles made sure that the threat value of the singular struggle was multiplied. When the bosses looked for information on the internet about the impolite youths blockading their front steps, they found several reports of earlier conflicts and figured that they were up against a much larger group than they had thought.

Get it free- all together.

Desire/Needs became the third organizing principle. We all needed or wanted free commuting, free culture or… well, what do you want? The same problem of individualization came to the fore. If one of us went to the theatre to ask for free enjoyment with respect to her precarious life it would probably have little effect. But we found, as others before us, that if you ask around on the internet how many people are feeling inclined to see a theatre, and then march up together to watch it without paying, this is a whole different matter.

These are of course just tentative concepts that we’ve come to use to better describe and think about our political activities. We hope that by putting those out they could echo with some of the concepts and struggles developed by other activist collectives around Europe and perhaps together we could overcome the temporary standstill that the European left seems to have suffered after the slowing down of the altermondiale movement. If there is a future for us, it resides in the concrete and day-to-day struggles that make up our lives under capitalism and our search for lives beyond it. Nostalgia for struggles passed does us no more good than passive utopism, waiting for a wave of struggles yet to come. We have to reinvent our forms of community and our ways of organizing and we have to do it as a joint effort. Hopefully this text can be steps towards making this happen. Please get in contact with us and describe your own experiences. We are just getting started.

San Precario

An explanation of Workplace Blogging

•June 11, 2009 • 1 Comment

This is a translation of a text by postverket, a blog maintained by postal workers. It explains why they make the blog and the effects it has had on the struggles in the workplace. Translation is (I think) by Khawaga.

A few words about the Postal Service

We work together. We take care of the machines, collect the mail, sort the letters. We work hard and obey. But we think and we talk with each other, discuss, laugh and grieve. We slow down the pace of work, we refuse operations of work and we increase crew. We do that directly without asking. Sometimes we have talked about it for several days and sometimes we just do it. “Nah, shit. Let’s take it easy. No more of this fucking stress!”. Sometimes you think that there must be something more than this? What can we do? What is possible? Together we create experiences and goals.

The postal service is one way in which to take discussion and experiences from the sorting compartments and the lunch room out of the Post Office. And then back to the Post Office. We want to circulate our and our comrades’ experiences from working and not working. We extend our hands to other hands, take part of others’ problems and experiences.

At the Postal Service we analyse work, we describe our problems as we see them, we talk about what decides the pace of work, the length of breaks or whether sick days are our or the Post office’s problem. 

I have circulated the blog a bit. Mainly just talking about it around the coffee table at work. To the people I hang out with at work.

Several small inspired, more or less obvious, effects have come as a result of the blog. Work mates that I have made aware of the blog tell and discuss it with others. Some work mates that I used to educate in discussions about “how things work” have since read the same things as I and become significantly more active, and have “read” and “know” things that I used to retell. They participate in discussion with more self-esteem. Some of them very inspired: “we could that as well”, and discussions about how things will happen on both a small and large scale. The blog has opened up for more or less direct discussions about our situation. The funny thing is also that I used to be the one to start these discussions, but now it is work mates that start them. Sometimes by referring to the blog.

A work mate who used to be scared of not doing what the bosses say (for example, returned early from breaks and did not dare to report in sick – two rather remarkable things at the terminal) reads the blog thoroughly and have sometimes held small speeches and accompanying actions over breaks and work pace. He has really changed the last few months, and I suspect that the blog has been a small contribution to this change. 

So. No revolution, but small inspired steps. Just thought I should convey this.

We laugh, grieve, read, think and discuss. We are forced to work with each other, but we learn to know each other, we support each other. Our confidence increases, backs straighten. Isolated people meet, groups meet each other. Bosses do not dare to manage, we have fun at the expense of work, we live a little at work. We develop our strengths, we know our power. 

The blog is an almost insignificant detail. An attempt to sharpen our knives. What is most important is our community. We work hard together, we have fun together, we struggle together. Long live life! To hell with the Post Office! 

Link to the blog (who only have material in Swedish):

The Registry Method explained

•June 11, 2009 • Leave a Comment

This is a post by “Altemark” on anarchistblackcat explaining the registry method. I think its a pretty good explanation, so Ive reposted it here to prevent it getting lost.

The “registry method” is a form of struggle developed uniquely by revolutionary syndicalists in Sweden during the early 20th century, with the method maturing during the years until it’s heyday in during the 40-50’s. So, what is the registry method? This tactic was developed by first and foremost navvys creating the swedish railway network – the idea can be traced to a industrial conference in 1913, and later reaching its full maturity among building and forestry workers – trades in which SAC often was the majority organisation.

SAC rejected the path chosen by the social democrat LO confederation, whose mindless focus on collective bargaining resulted in tying the hands of the worker’s class organisation behind their backs, with industrial peace clauses as the rope. With the balance of power in favour of the militant union struggle, a new front was opened up – not only working for better pay or workplace environment, but attacking the holy principle of the employers right to lead and distribute work and to employ and dismiss personnel at their own whim. This was seen as the logical step to fostering self-activity and preparing for workers’ taking over and running the industries, the ultimate goal in building a libertarian socialism.

To quote the railway worker and Gothenburg local of SAC, Ingemar Sjöö in his text “SAC and syndicalism”: “The basic principle of the register] was to set a minimum acceptable wage for a given piece of work which no one was to go below. If by chance an employer offered less then a blockade was declared. There never was a question of collective agreements or negotiations but only ultimatums from the register committee. The problem with LO affiliated members and sunorganised labour “resolved itself” by persuasion or at worst by tougher methods (the argument of the fist).”

The minimum requirement for the initation of a campaign to establish the registry in an area was to have at least half of the labor force sympathetic or members of SAC. And when LS (locals) of SAC managed to take the struggle to this level it proved to be very effective, especially in the mentioned industries – the crucial export industry forestry in northern Sweden and in Stockholm foremost among roads, paths, pipe- and cable-layers. For example hourly wages was generally  around 35% higher than the result of LO negotations and collective agreements.

Both the registry method as well as the SAC:s role as a serious alternative to business unionism declined with the increasing power of the paternal social democrat “folkhem” (People’s home, but german volksheim captures the multiple dimensions of the concept better). This was established through collaboration with the class enemy, particularly with signing of the so-called Saltsjöbad-agreement in 1938 with the employers confederation SAF – the formal beginnings of the so-called “swedish model”. Around these times secret agreements were made between LO and SAF that could guarantee LO providing workforce if an employer was in conflict with SAC and there was a weak point in the syndicalist position.

The registry method survived well into the 50’s, with some certain local situations in the forestry industry where the registry was used into the 70’s before this previously large industry declined in importance and as technical innovations made a large part of the workforce superflous. Another reason for the collapse of the working class control over the work was that the registry demanded a high degree of specialization and many man-hours from the SAC local which sometimes lead to almost all of the energy being absorbed by this administrative work.

This, in short, is the story of the historical registry. But in the early years of the 21th century new material conditions woke up the idea of reviving the registry in a new form. SAC contacts with sister organisations in foremost Spain brought the plight of the large and shady world of the paperless immigrants into view. These experiences were instrumental in the SACs surprisingly successful inroads here. Today almost 800 of SAC:s members come from this group, many of whom have gained status as legal immigrants thanks to putting pressure on often very shady employers.

It was in 2005 that the Skärholmen local of SAC in an immigrant-thick and poor working class neighourhood of Stockholm started to work with organising “the unorganisable”. Earlier the activism in defence of immigrants had been focused on political solutions and demands. But now the paperless working group began with months of meticolous groundwork by using the contacts of militant members, often latin americans, to make an inventory of the wages and workplace environments that immigrants are faced with. This was later used as base for the often several orders of magnitude demands on wages as well as real contracts leading to “legalisation” of these previously “illegal” comrades.

On the SAC website section on the registry method the modern incarnation is explained thusly: “This is a short manual for how this works. The balance of power and collective solidarity decides the extent of success. The registry has been practiced in this form on hundreds of workplaces in Sweden.

1. The local decide the price of the work.

2. The employer accepts the price.

3. The local provides the employer with a workforce, and by these means the employer is robbed of the right to hire and fire.

4. Those who re employed through the registry appoint their foreman themselves, and so the employer is robbed of the to right to lead and distribute the work.

5. If the employer doesn’t accept the conditions laid out by the local one cuts of the supply of workforce either through not assigning any workers there and/or by blockade. Either the work is done with the wage level appointed by the local and the workers the local votes to be representatives – or not at all. There exist no space for negotiations about the price or choice of workers.”

The militants responsible for identifying this specific material condition and successfully applying the modern form of the registry method to these conditions are aiming at encompassing ever larger groups of workers as well as in the long run generalize the unions control over the delegation of work. As reviewed earlier, in the heydays of 20th century swedish syndicalism the registry was viewed by many as the foremost methods for realizing the promise of syndicalism. But right now the work is concentrated around precarious workers and mainly the situation of the sans papiers.

The declaration of principles of the Syndikalistiska Registret – that is the contemporary incarnation of the method – can also be of interest.

Through this declaration of principles and goals the Syndicalist Registry is constituted.

§1 The registry is a method of struggle in the hands of the working class to fight for their rights, their autonomy and freedom.

§2 In the registry as members only persons who are a part of the working class and do not have a trade which is based on oppression of the working class. This means that none of the following are accepted as members of the registry; employers, police and even less career military officers.

§3 All members of the Registry dedicates themselves to accepting and following the democratic decisions made by the local and the local section of the Registry.

§4 If the Registrys local section or local take a decision in a democratic fashion and in trying to reach consensus to initiate a strike, not following this decision is a crime against solidarity and being a scab is totally unacceptable.

§5 An attack on a comrade in the Registry is an attack on all members of the Registry and this will be avenged in the ways found most fitting and grounded in democratic decisions.

§6 The primary method of the Registry is direct action.

§7 The long term goal of the Registry is to create the conditions for and training ourselves in self-activity and self-determination and to prepare ourselves to seize the means of production in a society that is just, egalitarian, socalist and libertarian.

The declaration of principles was unanimously accepted the 14th of october, 2007 in the Z-hall of the ABF-house [Worker’s Educational League] with a participation of 250 comrades.”

Another interesting point of discussion is how the Registry in practice seems to be a weird kind of bridge over the traditionally separated industrial (section, syndicates and federations) and geographical (LS, locals) manifestations of SAC – the Syndikalistiska Registret right now has Skärholmens and Västerorts LS of SAC attached to itselves at the same time as the basis of organization so far is the building of workplace sections and syndicates.

SAC in general seems to be a little special case whose organisational plan in its formative years was influenced in turns by industrial unionism and more geographically centered ideas. Is it non-functional? The internal debate is divided in this question as far as I understand it. It would be nice to have pros and cons for this with examples of libertarian unions (actually acting as unions) who have decided for either the one or the other approach.

Second Spring of Syndicalism – trade union re-organisation within the SAC

•June 11, 2009 • 1 Comment

This is a repost of an article by Mattias Wåg, first published in From Thoughts to Action. I think it’s a really good summary of SACs re-organisation, and also goes into some of the problems of SACs conflict orientation. More on that another time.

Lilla Karachi is hardly regarded as one of Stockholm’s more up-market restaurants. However, it has a good location at the centre of the tourist district of the Old Town and not very far from the Parliament  once now and then, the MP’s stop by to eat. —- As in the case of many other restaurants, they are playing around with the finances, wages are not reaching the collective settlements and parts of the salaries are paid under the table. Many of the workers are immigrants lacking work permits  cheap throwaway labour. When sans papier Muhammad Riaz was sacked in April 2007, Lilla Karachi assumed that their action would not result in any problems whatsoever thus not paying the due under-the-table salary. Normally, they would have got away with it: Swedish Social Democrat trade unions do not organize paperless immigrants and do not represent them in workplace conflicts. Syndicalist trade union SAC is an exception  of which Riaz was a member.

The Syndicalists took on the issue during December 2007 and began attempts to bring about a meeting with the management of the restaurant. However, the restaurant refused to negotiate or admit that Riaz had been working on the side for them. In February, SAC gave notice of action in order to impose a blockade on the restaurant and simultaneously began to hand out leaflets and created picket lines outside Lilla Karachi demanding the wages they failed to pay. A highly visible union action that close to the Parliament naturally provoked strong reactions. Maria Abrahamsson, head journalist of the conservative newspaper Svenska Dagbladet, rampaged because of the “mafia methods” and the “blackmail” of an employer used by the Syndicalists and right-wing politicians began to eat at the restaurant to express their solidarity and mark their hostility towards unions. But when information about black wages and the ruthless exploitation of paperless immigrants came out, the right-wing front began to crack. The restaurant owner was forced to accept conciliation and paid the missing salary.

The Register and Blockades

SAC’s blockade and victory was not an isolated event. The self-organized group for paperless immigrants within the trade union had built a register which listed the companies using paperless immigrants and paying salaries way under an acceptable level. When a paperless immigrant affiliated to the register, s/he also agreed to not work under a given wage level. Within a short time, 500 paperless workers affiliated to the register and the SAC began to win victory after victory. Only weeks after the victory against Lilla Karachi, McDonalds was forced to pay the wage demands of
the SAC after blockades during which their hired dubious cleaning company disappeared without paying any wages.

Thus, it is not only in conflicts with small companies that these methods have had success. The syndicalist blockades have proved highly effective against exactly those companies that the trade union movement has had difficulties with; where production is flexible and mainly outsourced to subcontractors. In cases when subcontractors have refused negotiations, the SAC have been able to direct their actions towards the main offices, towards those companies which use subcontractors and then put pressure on them to resolve labour conflicts with the union. In this way, the SAC have managed to win conflicts against multinational corporations such as McDonalds and recruiting companies such as Manpower, where the established trade union movement has had a hard time to organize. Internet among other things has made it easy to quickly coordinate national (and international) solidarity actions against the company which the Syndicalists are in conflict with.

“The blockades have been effective even amongst the paperless. We had a conflict with a cleaning company where many paperless immigrants worked. We gave notice of blockades and the cleaning company did not give a damn. So we went straight to the big hotel chain that contracted the cleaning company in Stockholm. We informed the hotels concerned about the union blockades their contracted cleaning company was about to be subjected to. They called the cleaning company immediately, angry for having to face their conflict. Even though the hotel found out about the conflict on a Sunday, it was resolved within six hours” says Torfi Magnusson, former editor of the SAC members’ paper.

However, the blockades have been more difficult to win when directed against the municipal public sector and state companies. These companies do not risk the same economic damage through negative publicity and blockades. Employers’ organizations have refused to retreat against trade union actions due to ideological reasons rather suffering economic losses.

Counter- reactions

Even though the SAC is a small trade union, the effectiveness of the blockades has caught the attention of the business world. The counter-reaction has taken shape in two ways. The business world’s organisations are warning against the development; according to the Swedish Institute of mediation, the SAC’s actions increase more than those of any other Swedish trade union. The Confederation of Swedish Enterprise is promoting restrictive measures against “high conflict” trade unions demanding the introduction of a “proportional principle” for trade union action and also wishing to forbid trade union solidarity actions and political strikes. At a more concrete level, police have begun to intervene more actively against the union actions of the SAC.

The Syndicalists have been operating in a union grey zone  on the basis that the actions were under constitutional protection. In contrast, the Social Democrat trade unions exclusively take measures during periods of transition
between contracts to enforce collective wage settlements. When a settlement is reached, a non-strike agreement prevails. However, the SAC make use of the actions in their continuous union practice to attain direct goals within wage negotiations, contracts, working environment and against discrimination without being subjected to the non-strike agreement. Within the so-called “Swedish model”, trade union conflicts have been resolved by the involved parties, by the employer and the union representing the worker, while the State has (in theory) remained neutral. In recent years, the police have made a re-interpretation of the right to take union action and have instead begun to treat the SAC’s blockades as “expressions of opinion”, meaning ordinary demonstrations of opinion. In this way, the actions fall into the usual regulation of order within the law. Thus the police have been able to, often in a violent way, break up the blockades or the leafleting outside workplaces and then charging the participants with offences accordingly.

Rebuilding the Union

The SAC was founded in 1910, soon celebrating its 100th anniversary. Despite its long continuity, base level union activity has not been top priority within the organisation, but a change occurred around 2001. In the midst of the upswing of the Anti-globalisation movement, in the aftermath of the anti-capitalist protests in Gothenburg, many activists chose to get involved in the union. The importance of returning to the workplaces, that anti- capitalism must begin with our everyday lives, was discussed simultaneously both within and outside the SAC. However, an influx of activists alone was not a guarantee of the return to trade union practice.

I do not always see it as an advantage to have ex-activists entering the organization. They may be too politically oriented but having zero experience of trade unionism. Many times they have a ready plan for how to work politically although lacking an idea of how workplace struggle is to be done” says Torfi Magnusson. “Everyone agreed upon the importance to strengthen the union practice, but how and what union practice?” There, opinions clashed. A series of union conferences became the point of departure. Soon, two lines became visible: those who wanted to commit to rank-and-file members focusing on the workplaces and, on the other hand, those who wanted to strengthen the union representatives and the ombudsmen’s role. The polarized discussion resulted in the representatives and the ombudsmen leaving the organization. Union practice was instead re-organized on the basis of self-activity and self-organization.

The re-organization of the union is about maintaining focus of interest on the workplace. It means to move away from the ombudsman-ism when you have a client relationship between the individual member who has a problem and a hired ombudsman that solves it. The member has to be involved in his or hers issues, has to try to recruit working colleagues and to build sections. It is much about experimenting, see how one may win over an issue before it goes as far as an open conflict” says Torfi Magnusson.

Syndikalisten, the member’s journal for which Torfi Magnusson was the editor, became the hub for this re-organization. Every issue now covers reports from sections and syndicates, trade union direct actions and rank-and-file negotiations which mirrors the life the union has gained from below through its base activity. Even though the blockades have become the union action most visible to the public and have received the most attention in the media, it is not a solely positive method. The blockades have most of the times been used at workplaces lacking a strong collective but individual members and the rest of the organization have been used as an external resource.

We have been too hard in some conflicts. You have one single member on a workplace, 20 people may come and support a blockade outside. But what happens when the blockade is over? This is not only about blockade conflicts but a rather usual phenomenon. When the open conflict is over or won, the person in question does not return to his workplace but instead quits. And it is not possible to build a long-term trade union activity on that, that every conflict results in losing the only member that we had on that particular workplace” says Torfi Magnusson.

A less spectacular work to strengthen the support within workplace collectives, to help members to create sections at their workplaces and create industrial syndicates is therefore going on within the union re-organization. In order to give all members the tools to carry out union struggles at their workplace and to stimulate self-organization, the SAC has begun to organize rank-and-file union workshops, a kind of information meeting where the members meet to discuss their workplace problems helping each other to find solutions. These workshops are public meetings where the members can bring their colleagues who do not necessarily have to be members of the union. This creates a simple and natural way for the experiences from union work to circulate and be transmitted between the members.

The re-organization of the SAC is only in its beginning but has reshaped the whole organization in a year or so and has created a level of union activity not seen within the organization since the thirties. The syndicalist ideas of organization that had its heyday between the 1910-30’s was born out of a class composition consisting of unskilled part-time and flexible jobs has had a renaissance under today’s scattered production, whether one is describing it as post- or hyperfordist and corresponds to a need created by flexible employments, paperless immigrants and precarious part-time jobs. The second spring of the “other” worker’s movement has begun.

For more information about the swedish
syndicalist union visit: