Cautiously Pessimistic's thoughtful reply to my critique of Plan C's "social strike perspective" is very welcome. Many of its themes were telegraphed in an exchanged of comments between me and Cautiously on the AWL website, under my original article (click the link above and scroll to the bottom). I'll try to focus here on issues I haven't already responded to.
As I'm sure you can imagine, there's a much much longer response coming at some point, but I just wanted to check this point:
"...arguing that a worker, or group of workers, organising their workplace from scratch would be “working outside the currently existing unions” whether or not they organised through IWGB or Unite. In fact, they wouldn't be “working outside the currently existing unions” in either case, as both Unite and IWGB provide a level of existing infrastructure, resources (both human and otherwise), and accumulated experience and knowledge of struggle. But to pose the matter starkly, if you choose to attempt to set up an IWGB branch in your unionised workplace, rather than attempting to organise through the GMB or Unite, you are “starting from scratch” in a much more fundamental way"
Should "unionised workplace" be "un-unionised" or "non-unionised" here? I don't want to have a cheap dig if it's not justified, but given that a lot of this conversation has consisted of me saying something along the lines of "you're mostly focused on workplaces where union organisation already exists and don't have that much to say about the places where it doesn't", and you saying "nah, that's not true, we totally care about unorganised workers" (paraphrasing wildly here, obviously), then for me to say "I'm not that convinced that the resources of larger unions make that much of a difference in places where they don't already have a membership base", and for you to respond with "but if we change this conversation to be about workplaces where the GMB do already have members then things look different" feels like a bit of a weak counter-argument. But if that bit is a typo and you actually meant to say "if you choose to attempt to set up an IWGB branch in your un-unionised workplace, rather than attempting to organise through the GMB or Unite, you are “starting from scratch” in a much more fundamental way" then that's quite a different point - just wanted to check which one I should be responding to. More to follow.
OK, I've finished off my reply to this. This does feel like one of those conversations where every point made raises a lot of other counter-points, so I've tried to keep some kind of balance between skimming over too much and making this even more unreadably long and rambling.
Finally, someone prepared to bring the legacy of the strike of rickshaw couriers at Ye Olde Telegraph-Powered Food Delivery service in 1899 in from the cold. I salute you, comrade.
Seriously though, good article. I will reply, eventually. I think the exchange is worth continuing, tangent-generating and rambling though it is.
By the way, if you have the time, this recent piece from the AWW, while very long, is also quite interesting about some of the themes that have come up in this discussion (and has a lot of proper stats in it).
"In terms of more serious attempts to understand the revolutionary subjectivity and limitations of the uprisings, what is left is an unproductive separation of analysis: some people emphasise the increasing numbers of proletarians expelled from the immediate production process (surplus population, unemployed) and others focus on the productive collective power of workers in the emerging global supply chains (global working class debate). Some discovered the ‘era of riots’ , while others proclaimed the ‘global strike wave’ . Both sides are able to provide ample sociological proof for their position – figures about slum dwellers or the global integration of production.
We can ask ourselves why this separation of political focus has emerged. While it has something to do with the social position, regional location, and political preferences of those who analyse, the main material reason will be the real separation within working class existence: how workers experience impoverishment and productive power is structured and diversified regionally, sectorially, in terms of gender etc. In that sense most theoretical analysis and their one-sided focus only mirrors reality, without questioning it...
This main contradiction of capital appears both as an internal character of production (separated cooperation) and its result (relative impoverishment). The championing of either ‘surplus population’ or ‘workers’ productive power’ separate these two dynamics instead of analysing how, in reality, the experiences of ‘impoverishment’ and ‘collective productivity’ coincide or are segregated within the global working class. The separation also leads to a different understanding of revolution and consequently of one’s own role. If we focus merely on the first aspect of the contradiction – the creation of an impoverished surplus population – we will mainly perceive the social process as a kind of automatic tendency: capital accumulates itself and churns out a growing numbers of discontented unemployed. While this results in a quite deterministic view on social developments on one side – which we can just observe and which has little to do with the agency of the exploited – it also results in a pretty superficial and mechanical view of revolution as insurrection and rupture: at some point there are just too many poor people to be controlled. Instead we should analyse how the experience of cooperation and collective productivity and struggle of workers relates to the experience of impoverishment."