What Can a Strike Achieve?

People often pose the question, what can a strike achieve? The WSM policy on trade unions states the following: “What is anarchism? When we get down to basics, it is workers collectively running a free society. Instead of taking orders from the boss and serving his/her mad rush for profit at any cost, it is about working together for the common good.

This doesn't mean that strikers set out with clear anarchist goals in mind. They don't. But collective action is the only way to win a strike - so the logic of the workers' position: collective action in production, collective action in struggle; takes us in an anarchist direction. And once in struggle peoples' ideas can change. They gain confidence, a sense of their ability to take control of their own lives.

This is why many workers who go on strike with faith in the "impartiality" of the police or with sexist ideas (to give but two examples) can find these ideas challenged by their experience in struggle ... It is only the self-activity of masses of workers that is capable of mounting an effective challenge to the bosses and their state.”

Thus, for a worker to join a trade union means recognising, to at least some degree, that he or she has different interests from their boss. Unionised workers understand that they have to organise along class lines in order to defend or further their interests. We argue that this organisation should take the form of direct action in response to exploitation in the workplace and strikes are a perfect example of this.

When workers strike, it demonstrates working class self-help, without having to rely on others, be it politicians or the industrial relations organs of the state. It is a lesson in the benefits of working co-operatively to try and achieve an aim and builds confidence within our class. So, while our trade unions may be imperfect in a number of ways, activity within them is educational as well as necessary.

Fundamentally, anarchists believe in democratic control of all facets of our lives, including our workplaces. While a strike will generally have limited goals, we ultimately aspire to moving beyond limited demands to taking over, or self-management, of the workplace. Strikes are therefore important in developing the confidence and skills required to co-operatively make decisions and then carry them out.

Self-management allows for the input of all workers and thus a wide range of skills and experiences, as opposed to the workplace under capitalism where decision-making powers are monopolised by the few, and used in their own interests. Ultimately, workers’ control of the workplace will also allow for the development of workers abilities through their participation in the decision-making process.

They will learn about and gain an understanding of the various processes in their workplace, rather than simply focusing on their, frequently monotonous, rote tasks as is required in a hierarchically organised work environment. Taking collective action, like striking, is a vital part of the process.

Workers Solidarity 109 May - June 2009 Edition

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