Aotearoa Workers Solidarity Movement 2010 Conference Report

June 16, 2010

Over the weekend of June 5-6th, the Aotearoa Workers Solidarity Movement held its 3rd national conference since it was founded in October 2008. Almost all members were able to attend, meaning people from 5 different regions across the country were present, at the fantastic venue of the Wellington People’s Centre.

The weekend was spent reflecting on and discussing our activity over the previous 12 months, making some changes to our core politics (as written in our Aims & Principles) and how we work (detailed in our Constitution) and coming up with plans for the next 12 months, plus some longer term thinking as well.

Reflecting on the past 12 months

We discussed briefly the current state of class-struggle. While we have not come to any conclusions about what is happening in society, we considered that under the current recession, importance issues seem to be low pay, overwork, increasing casualisation and unemployment, increasing costs of living, cut backs to community, education and health services, the privatisation of services and infrastructure, and the rise of a surveillance state replete with more prisons and instruments of repression. While there has been some limited resistance, such as how government workers thawed the pay freeze that was placed on them, mostly resistance is still fragmented, small-scale, isolated and at a low-ebb.

Since the 2009 conference, AWSM has grown slightly – from having members in 3 regions, all in the North Island, to having members in 5 places across both islands.

We have been involved in supporting a range of different workplace struggles in various parts of the country, including (but not limited to): Zeal 320 flight attendants, JB Hi-Fi retail workers, Parliamentary cleaners, Ministry of Justice staff and Synovate call centre workers. We have also been involved in struggles for an increase to the minimum wage, for pay equity between men and women and against the proposed pay freeze for public sector workers.

Outside the workplace, we have been involved in fights against cuts to ACC, against the introduction of user-pays charges on residential water in Wellington, against the closure of the 198 Youth Health Centre in Christchurch, and against the introduction of the Search & Surveillance Bill nationally.

In Wellington and Christchurch we have organised (in coordination with Beyond Resistance in Christchurch) public discussion groups and film nights, on a range of topics including current attacks on the working class, mining in national parks, dole autonomy, tactics for workplace struggle, women and work, and more. We have also hosted talks by a member of the Workers Solidarity Movement in Ireland, looking at how the WSM organise and some of their successes and failures over the past 25 years.

We have published 6 issues of our newssheet, Solidarity, and are now on target for publishing it every month, a goal which we previously had not been able to attain. The current distribution is 700 paper copies across 6 different centres, plus electronic distribution worldwide. Some discussion was held at the conference about increasing the number of paper copies we distribute.

In addition to this, we have produced a handful of different leaflets for various events and struggles, which have been distributed across the country. We have started writing news and analysis articles specifically for the website, as well as those we publish in Solidarity, and our members have been involved, on an individual level, in a variety of other things, including one who spent several months engaging in industrial action (including strikes) at their workplace, involvement in the October 15th Solidarity campaign, and more.

Changes to the Aims & Principles

Point 4, which used to read:

We support Tino Rangatiratanga and stand in solidarity with grassroots indigenous struggle and direct action, while not supporting Maori capitalism and corporatisation (we acknowledge the lack of anarchist theory on the indigenous struggle in Aotearoa / New Zealand and are in the process of researching, debating and discussing a more detailed position on this point).

Now reads:

We support Tino Rangatiratanga and stand in solidarity with flaxroots indigenous struggle and direct action. The state’s Treaty of Waitangi settlement process has benefited a small Maori capitalist elite, while doing little for working class Maori. While we respect tikanga Maori and te ao Maori, we believe that tino rangatiratanga is not possible for all Maori under capitalism and the state.

Point 9, which used to read:

We acknowledge that by implementing the organisation section of the The Organizational Platform of the Libertarian Communists – theoretical unity, tactical unity, collective responsibility and federalism – we will be best able to move forward in promoting the aims and principles of the Aotearoa Workers Solidarity Movement.

Now reads:

We believe that by working with the principles of theoretical unity, tactical unity, collective responsibility and federalism, we will be best able to move forward in promoting the aims and principles of the Aotearoa Workers Solidarity Movement.

We added two new points, 10 and 11:

10: We advocate a materialist analysis of capitalist society. We, the working class, can change and overthrow society through our own efforts. Worshipping an unprovable spiritual realm, or believing in a religious unity between classes, mystifies or suppresses such self-emancipation/liberation. While we respect people’s right to hold spiritual beliefs, we encourage skepticism toward any notion that people can be liberated through some kind of supernatural force.

11: The working class has no country. For a revolution based on anarchist-communist principles to succeed, it must be global, and in our exploitation by the ruling class we share a common experience with other working class people all over the planet. Internationalism is therefore crucial to our politics. While we oppose “national liberation” movements because they are cross-class in nature and harmful to worldwide working class solidarity, we support working-class resistance to colonialism and state oppression.

You can read our full, updated, aims & principles at http://www.awsm.org.nz/?page_id=14

Changes to the constitution

We made a number of (mostly minor) changes to our constitution, including further clarifying our decision making process, adjusting the responsibilities of two of our national positions (national secretary and treasurer), and some changes to our internal communication and internal education process.

We also changed the roles of the editors of Solidarity and our (yet-to-be-published, yet-to-be-named) magazine, so that they could be performed by a collective. We felt that this was necessary in order to make these roles accessible to more members, as when performed by one person they became very time consuming.

Our full, updated, constitution is on our website at http://www.awsm.org.nz/?page_id=50

Plans for the future

We have planned for a number of activities in the coming months and years. Firstly, much of what we are currently doing will continue – monthly discussions/film evenings in Wellington and Christchurch (and, we hope, soon Auckland as well), publishing Solidarity, strike support etc.

Additionally, we have set deadlines which will see the first issue of our magazine published before the end of 2010. The magazine will contain a variety of articles, including theory, in-depth news analysis, New Zealand class-struggle history, interviews and more.

We have planned to hold a small scale anarchist bookfair in Wellington within 12 months. The event will include stalls from political groups and publishing/distribution collectives, workshops and talks, and film screenings.

The next 12 months could also be full of conferences. AWSM will have another annual conference next year, but before then we are also planning a theory conference, which will consist of a whole weekend spent discussing 4 topics to try to formulate our thinking on them. So far, we have decided on 3 of the topics: Tino Rangatiratanga, Workplace Organising, and The Role of a Revolutionary Organisation in a Non-Revolutionary Period. There is also the possibility of an Oceania anarchist-communist conference, to be organised by the Melbourne Anarchist-Communist Group.

In Wellington, AWSM members are planning to help create new organisational forms that workers can use to get around the legal restrictions on the right to strike laid down by the repressive Employment Relations Act. Such forms would of necessity need to be independent of AWSM (or any other organisation).

AWSM is also planning a nationwide speaking tour over the next 12 months, which we hope will spur the creation (or growth) of branches in various centres, and build contacts in various centres, industries and groups. The topics are yet to be decided, but we hope they will be interesting and entertaining. If you would like to host the speaking tour in your town or city, please contact us. We will also be making a concerted effort to put out propaganda around the issues of low pay and overwork, which we feel are vital issues to confront, and will be using the opportunity of the General Election in late 2011 to spread the message of self-organisation as opposed to voting.

If you are interested in joining or simply finding out more about AWSM, you can visit our website at http://www.awsm.org.nz, email us at info [ at ] awsm.org.nz or send us a letter: PO Box 6387, Wellington 6141, New Zealand.


Introduction to Anarchist-Communism

June 10, 2010

On June 5th, the Aotearoa Workers Solidarity Movement held a public talk introducing the ideas of anarchist-communism, followed by a screening of the film Living Utopia, about the Spanish Revolution and Civil War of 1936-9. About 40 people attended the event, held at the New Crossways Community Centre in Mt. Victoria.

Introduction to Anarchist-Communism

We live in a beautiful world. After millions of years of evolution, humans have built vast societies that span almost the entire globe. These societies, however, are marked by massive differences in wealth and power. While some individuals have more than they could ever possibly use, let alone need, many of us struggle just to put food on the table, or even to have a place of our own to put a table in. Our society is fundamentally divided into two classes – the ruling class, encompassing a tiny percentage of the 6 billion plus people living on this planet, and the working class, the vast majority of us. The system which divides us is called capitalism.

Some people think of male factory workers when they hear the term working class, but this is not what we mean. The working class is not limited to blue collar workers in factories, but instead it includes all of us who are forced to sell our labour power to survive. This includes people who are in paid employment, whether in a factory, office, cafe or retail store. It also includes those who are unable to find paid employment, or have chosen to refuse the drudgery of paid work in order to attempt to live on the meagre benefits supplied by the state, and who provide a vast potential pool of labour that enables the ruling class to further keep wages down. The working class includes stay at home parents, doing vital unpaid work to raise the next generation of human beings. In short, if you don´t own a business, if you aren´t part of the Government, if you aren´t independently wealthy (such as from an inheritance), then chances are you are a part of the working class.

Now we can begin to see why the working class is so vital in the struggle to end capitalism and build a better, more just society. Through the sheer weight of numbers, we in the working class, if we are able to recognise our collective strength, can threaten the very existence of classes. But it is not through numbers alone that the working class has the potential to destroy this rotten system. As workers, we create wealth for the bosses each and every day at our jobs. Some of this wealth is returned to us in the form of wages, but much is stolen. This stolen wealth is often called ¨surplus value¨.

It is the accumulation of surplus value, stolen by our bosses, that forms the wealth of the ruling class. But because the goods and services that create this surplus value ultimately come from the hands and the brains of workers, through collectively withdrawing our labour, we can force the bosses to give in to our demands. In the short term, withdrawing our labour (in the form of strikes) can improve our wages and conditions at work, and increase the collective confidence and feelings of solidarity amongst our workmates. But in the long term, a general strike across all workplaces could ultimately be the first spark of a revolution, a time where we sweep away old injustices and usher in new forms of organising to create a society where no-one would suffer for lack of food, water or shelter, where we would all be able to contribute to our full potential and have all our needs fulfilled. Our fight for this, the fight of workers against bosses, is often called class struggle.

In this future society, production of all goods would be guided by our needs, not the drive for profit. Unhampered by an inability to afford higher education, or a need to provide financially for ourselves and others, we would each be able to work in areas which interest and fulfill us. Any undesirable work would be shared out equally amongst us all. Through a system of democratic mass meetings, also called councils, in our communities and workplaces, we would all have an equal say in making the decisions which affect our lives. All who contributed to this society to the best of their ability would be fully entitled to have their needs and wants met. Money would not exist, replaced by a gift economy, where all goods and services would be freely distributed without any need for barter or other forms of trade. Mutual aid would replace competition as the force between us. This future society, governed according to the phrase ¨from each according to ability, to each according to need¨ is known as communism.

In a communist world, there would be no reason to maintain the artificial lines which divide the working class today. Without borders, and therefore without states, all would be free to live wherever they pleased. As workplace and community councils will have taken over the running of our society, there will be no reason to have governments or politicians. The idea that the working class can control our own lives, without states, governments or borders, is also called anarchism.

But how do we get from our current capitalist society to a future anarchist-communist one? Here, we can learn much from past attempts such as the Spanish Revolution (which we will be watching a film about after this talk) in the mid-late 1930s, the Russian Revolution, including the experiences of anarchists in the Ukraine in the late 1910s, and the uprising against Soviet rule in Hungary in 1956. While learning from the successes and failures of anarchists and the broader working class movement is important, we must also be cautious not to blindly copy strategies and tactics without considering the differences between our current situation and theirs. During periods of intense class struggle, new forms of organising can be thrown up that may surprise everyone involved. Ultimately, we must never lose faith in the ability of working class people to organise themselves. We have created everything in this society, and this is just as true of forms of struggle as it is of material goods.

From the lessons of the past, we can learn that those in power will never give up control over society lightly. In order to destroy the current order, there will need to be a revolution, a time of great upheaval. The success or failure of this revolution will depend on many things, but the methods of organising it will have a major impact. A revolution controlled by a small clique can only result in a society controlled by that same clique. Therefore, if we want to create a society where control rests democratically in the masses, the revolutionary struggle itself must also be controlled democratically by the masses. Anyone nominated to do a particular task must be subject to instant recall, meaning that if they make a decision that goes against the mandate they have received from the councils, the councils can remove them from their position and nullify the decision. Ultimately, all final decision making power rests with the councils themselves, not with any individuals delegated to particular roles. This type of decision making structure is called direct democracy.

One of the key tasks to build towards a revolutionary situation is the building of working class consciousness and confidence. At present, most working class people don´t identify as such. Through collective struggle, we can begin to discover our common interests with other members of the class, and we start to recognise that those interests lie in direct opposition to the interests of the ruling class. At a really basic level, in the immediate term, we want to work less for more money, while the ruling class wants us to work more for less money. In New Zealand, since the 1980s, productivity has massively increased while real wages have stagnated or even dropped. In other words, we are currently in a period of class defeat. Through working collectively to better our daily lives, we can build up the confidence to take on bigger and bigger issues, ultimately leading to a revolutionary period where we can change the entire structure of society. These struggles are not limited to the workplace, but also encompass community campaigns – for instance for better access to services such as childcare and libraries, or in defence of services we already have, such as the struggle against user-pays charges on water. Struggles against forms of oppression such as sexism and racism that serve to divide us against each other are also vital if we are ever to recognise our full collective power and to enable the full participation of all members of society on an equal level.

While sexism and racism are hugely influenced by class society, they are not wholly owned by it. In fact, patriarchal societies predate the existence of capitalism. While class society enhances these oppressions, and uses them to bolster its own control over the working class, we must not let that trick us into thinking that these forms of oppression are solely due to capitalism, and will automatically disappear along with it. On the contrary, struggles against sexism and racism must be fought alongside those against class society. These struggles can compliment each other – for instance, standing alongside someone on a picket line, seeing clearly your common interest with them, can be a way to lessen or remove entirely your prejudice against them.

In all these struggles, we must be wary of those who would seek to co-opt our class power and redirect it to further their own interests. Politicians will often try to control community campaigns, promising to give us a victory if we vote for them in the next General or Local Body election. We must be clear that we can win without them, that by exercising collective class power we can achieve a victory on our own terms. Likewise, in workplace struggles, trade unions serve to function as a cork on class power. They help to ensure struggle never gets out of their control, often selling out the very workers they claim to represent. NGOs will seek to professionalise environmental and social struggles, encouraging us to sign their petitions or pledge weekly donations, thereby removing us from the struggle while bolstering their own claim to be the legitimate representative of the environment, women, queers etc. Above all, self-organisation of the struggle must be remembered as a key principle.

Working class unity and solidarity, across borders and social divides, is what will ultimately allow us to create a new world without capitalism or states. We do not glorify the working class – as human beings, we can never be perfect. But we, the working class, however flawed we may be, have created all the wealth in this society – we built the cities, vast railway lines and huge ships. We have created stunning works of art and beautiful pieces of music. We have cured diseases and prolonged life to an unprecedented extent. And together, if we realise our own power, we can finally take control of our lives, free from exploitation, alienation and oppression. This future, an anarchist-communist one, is truly a future worth fighting for.


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