WWI: Remember the Dead, Remember Those Who Resisted

Today, 11th November, is the 100th anniversary of the 1918 armistice which ended the First World War. More than ever, the build-up to Remembrance Day has been used to push a pro-militarist agenda, and attack dissenting views. It pushes ‘patriotism’ and ignores class, gender, race, disability and other sources of power and inequality.

We mourn the millions of soldiers on both sides who were deceived or forced into fighting, particularly those who lost their lives or were injured.  We mourn the millions of civilians who were injured or killed.  We mourn the millions of people on both sides who continued to suffer after the war, often from post traumatic stress, generally without receiving the support they needed.  We mourn for all the young working class people who suffered the guilt of being forced to kill others just like them or build armaments to support the ‘war effort’.   We condemn the ruling class on both sides that caused this war through their greed and desire for more power and domination.

For us, as internationalists and anti-militarists, we will cherish the memory of all those who stood on principle against the war or who came to resist it. These included:

  • Over 16,000 conscientious objectors in Britain, many of whom endured long stretches of hard labour and prison;
  • Socialists and anarchists who campaigned against the war and conscription, and faced down jingoistic mobs;
  • The left-wing women’s movement, led especially by Agnes Dollan and Helen Crawfurd, whose Women’s Peace Crusades attracted thousands in Glasgow;
  • John MacLean, who became the voice of the anti-war movement, and who would never recover from the punishment he received from the state;
  • And the soldiers themselves – not just from Britain, but Russia, France and Germany – who came to refuse orders, shirk, desert and ultimately mutiny. It was, after all, the Kiel mutiny of German sailors who brought an end to the war and ushered in the German Revolution.

The Industrial Workers of the World itself has a long history of resisting all capitalists’ wars from American intervention in Mexico in the 1910s to the wars of the present day.

During the First World War, Wobblies carried out anti-war campaigning and were imprisoned for refusing to serve in the army in Britain, Australia and New Zealand. In the USA, it is true, there was more debate over the best course to follow. The union was overwhelmingly against the war, but the majority of the leadership wanted to save the organisation from destruction by muting its anti-war stance. As it turned out, the state launched a full-scale attack on the union anyway.

Rank-and-file American Wobblies did actively struggle against the war machine, however, and they were led by organiser Frank Little. He argued that the war had brought a ‘mad chaos of bloodshed and slaughter’, and that it could ‘only serve to further rivet the chains of slavery on our necks, and render still more secure the power of the few to control the destinies of the many’ (Chester 2014: 129). Little was murdered by hired thugs in August 1917.

Here, we reproduce a resolution passed by the American IWW in 1916. It might be over a hundred years old but it’s as relevant as ever.

This history is not dead. Anti-militarism is not a side issue to our organising; it’s a necessary part of organising for a better world.

Anti-war resolution passed by the 1916 convention of the (US) Industrial Workers of the World:

We, the Industrial Workers of the World, in convention assembled, hereby re-affirm our adherence to the principles of industrial unionism, and rededicate ourselves to the unflinching, unfaltering prosecution of the struggle for the abolition of wage slavery and the realization of our ideals in Industrial Democracy.

With the European war for conquest and exploitation raging and destroying our lives, class consciousness and the unity of the workers, and the ever-growing agitation for military preparedness clouding the main issues and delaying the realization of our ultimate aim with patriotic and therefore capitalistic aspirations, we openly declare ourselves the determined opponents of all nationalistic sectionalism, or patriotism, and the militarism preached and supported by our one enemy, the capitalist class.

We condemn all wars, and for the prevention of such, we proclaim the anti-militaristic propaganda in time of peace, thus promoting class solidarity among the workers of the entire world, and, in time of war, the general strike, in all industries.

We extend assurances of both moral and material support to all workers who suffer at the hands of the capitalist class for their adherence to these principles, and call on all workers to unite themselves with us, that the reign of the exploiters may cease, and this earth be made fair through the establishment of industrial democracy.

(This resolution was previously published online at iww.org.)

 

 

Further information:

For a good account of conscientious objection in Scotland and Britain, see Spirit of Revolt’s recent talk on this subject.

The best summary of conscientious objection and resistance to WWI in Scotland is Robert Duncan’s Objectors and Resisters: Opposition to Conscription and War in Scotland 1914-1918 (2015).

Eric Chester’s Wobblies in Their Heyday (2014) has a useful discussion of the American IWW during the First World War.

Two great essays on the British army during the war are Dave Lamb’s Mutinies 1917-1920, and Why Blackadder Goes Forth Could Have Been a Lot Funnier, by the Bristol Radical History Group, which looks at the ways in which soldiers would avoid killing.

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Dear SNP: The Past Misdemeanours of Labour and Union Leaders are not the Concern of Women on Strike Today

This was written by a Dundee Wobbly (in personal capacity) on 24th October – the second day of the Glasgow women’s equal pay strike. 

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There are 8,000 women on strike in Glasgow today demanding equal pay. They are spread across three trade unions, each of whose balloted members provided a support rate of between 90% and 98%. The dispute stretches back to 2006, when Glasgow City Council – led by a Labour administration – made a purported attempt to eliminate gender pay inequality by introducing a “Workforce Pay and Benefits Review”. However, the resulting changes actually discriminated against women workers, given that:

  1. a payment protection arrangement for men was not extended to women;
  2. those working over 37 hours qualified for extra payments, but most women (70% of the workforce) worked fewer than 35 hours; and
  3. workers in female-dominated roles, e.g. home care, received much less than those in broadly equivalent male-dominated jobs

Despite the decision to strike being taken by the workers themselves, the SNP – from leadership to lay supporters – have criticised Labour and the trade unions for their supposed hypocrisy, given that the former implemented the very discrimination in question, and that they both decided to do nothing about it until Labour was eventually ousted by an SNP administration in May 2017. While there certainly are criticisms to be levelled, I believe concentrating on the misactions of a political party and union leaderships between 2006 and 2017 in response to a strike led by union members today is patronising, with the implication being the women are mere pawns of Labour and the unions, who have tricked them into clandestinely attacking the SNP. Thus, while lip-service is paid to the strike, all agency is removed from the women themselves, who voted over 90% in favour of striking.

This is not an equally opportunistic piece by a Labour supporter. I do not believe meaningful improvements for the working class have ever been delivered by political parties, including Labour. Throughout history, all significant improvements for the working class, such as the abolition of slavery, the end of child labour, the eight hour day, mandatory weekends, the welfare state, and anti-discrimination legislation, were not the gift of benevolent statesmen. They were won through long, and often bloody, struggle by workers, women, black people, LGBT people, and many others, who took collective direct action in the face of state violence. Eventually, when faced with the real prospect of widespread unrest or revolution, the ruling class had to make such concessions to ensure continuance of the capitalist mode of production. Even then, such concessions remain in constant peril and are inevitably clawed back when not defended by extra-parliamentary means. This is exemplified by the dismantling of the welfare state and crushing of organised labour. Therefore, just as we cannot rely on political parties to grant us concessions, we cannot rely on them to defend those concessions already won.

Back to the Women’s Strike: There are justifiable criticisms of Labour and the trade unions during Labour’s previous tenure of Glasgow City Council. I have no desire to defend or explain away their actions; that political parties act primarily in their own interest and not those of the working class is sufficient explanation. Trade unions can be similarly flawed, particularly when dominated by men and engaging in utterly myopic thinking, like supporting the renewal of Trident or campaigning for a four day work week by 2100, when we have just a decade to completely restructure all aspects of production and consumption (read: abolish capitalism) so as not to bequeath an inhospitable planet to our children. Accordingly, Nicola Sturgeon says she “feels contempt for a Labour Party expressing solidarity now when, in power, they took these women to court to deny equal pay”. It is worth mentioning that the policy agenda of Corbyn’s Labour is a clear departure to the left from the neoliberal agenda of New Labour. So it’s no real surprise that it expresses support for the strike. And given both parties’ supposed support of trade unionism, surely a strike instigated and undertaken by workers of all and no party stripes is a cause for unity among two apparently pro-trade union parties? Indeed, division among the workforce sounds the death knell for any strike action. So why would the SNP sow such division?

Ultimately, the SNP fears that Labour may gain political ground from this strike. A successful trade union strike may lead to an increase of support for a party rightly or wrongly associated with organised labour. The SNP, like any governing party, is keen to cling to power. Thus, self-interest rules the day and the need to portray Labour negatively takes precedence over the potential disunity their stance may cause among the striking workforce. It also neatly detracts from their own failure to resolve the issue. This is a common political tactic: watch Question Time on any given week and you are absolutely guaranteed to hear one of the many Tory panellists bemoan the mess Labour left the country in, despite their having not been in power for eight years.

So yes, Labour made massive failures in Glasgow and everywhere else. Yes, the unions – led by, and likely acting in the interest of, men, (consciously or unconsciously) – failed in their duty to challenge pay discrimination against women workers. Certainly, there are many lessons to be learned for trade unionists. But the fact is that today women across Glasgow, regardless of their political affiliation, strike to end a long-standing injustice. They lead from the front and they deserve our unconditional support.

This whole tawdry affair just emphasises the utter impotence of party politics to effect real economic change and the need for trade unions to be organised from the bottom-up with women and other oppressed groups playing a decisive role therein. We win when we take collective direct action ourselves rather than wait for a dawdling and ultimately belligerent political class.

Victory to the Glasgow Women’s Strike.

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Equality, Radical Unionism, and Safer Spaces

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Why Safer Spaces?
Totally safe spaces would be good, but are probably not possible under capitalism and patriarchy. A Safer Spaces policy is the next best thing.

As a radical union that engages in both workplace organising and community campaigning, a primary goal of the Industrial Workers of the World is to make all members feel as safe as possible and to effectively deal with the equality issues which are part of Safer Spaces — truly a necessary part of the health and
safety mission of every trade union.

Equality, solidarity, and Safer Spaces are principles basic to industrial organising, not optional extras. Practice based on safer spaces — and actions in coalition with other anti-authoritarian groups — strengthen our ability to make connections with other workers, since people are unlikely to join an organisation or participate in it if they do not feel safe, or if the organisation’s perspective is too narrow. Solidarity, whether on picket lines or anti-war marches, is the heart of radical unionism.

In contrast, divide and conquer is a common tactic of the bosses and oppressors. In the past, unions have kept out women, Jews, and Blacks. Without Safer Spaces we create a climate that excludes members of some groups, setting us up to serve the interests of the bosses – not a good idea. United we are strong. Divided we are weak.

What are safer spaces?
There are general ideas of what is meant by safer spaces, but not an agreed definition. The initial and still frequent focus is gender. Women are still undermined, ridiculed and inappropriately touched in many organisations. Often serious incidents of sexual assault are not responded to properly. Instead, the woman making the complaint and her supporters are blamed. This is totally unacceptable. We need to actively oppose belittling and violence in our organisations and in society as a whole.

However, Safer Spaces gender issues are wider than the treatment of women. They also cover respect for trans people (many of whom identify as members of a particular gender rather than trans) and anyone who does not identify with binary gender divisions. Trans and non-binary people experience discrimination in the workplace, so this is clearly a union issue. It is also one of defending rights and transforming society — basic principles of a radical union.

Building and maintaining a culturally and ethnically diversified membership is a goal for the IWW and many other organisations that are predominantly White. Are there cultural assumptions which make members of colour and those from ethnic minorities feel excluded? What measures are in place for ensuring that speakers of other languages can participate effectively and are not marginalised? These are all Safer Spaces issues that are barriers to full participation in an organisation or campaign.

Another major issue is accessibility. Physical accessibility is an important part of this, but lack of access goes beyond this. It includes access to documents and information, participation in discussion, and an environment that accommodates people with a particular need, such as a low level of sensory stimulation.

Access to social events is just as important as meeting-place access. This means treating all disabled people with respect, including those who look and/or behave ‘differently’, for instance not staring at them or ignoring them.

Safer Spaces is not about gloom and guilt, but it does require that ‘fun’ not be at the expense of others.

Creating Safer Spaces

Safer Spaces starts with education. It includes learning from other groups and individuals about different ways of organising and involving people; about their experiences with Safer Spaces and what has worked, or gone wrong.

There are different approaches to Safer Spaces, so a group interested in creating a Safer Spaces policy should find or create a model that feels right for them– preferably one that aims to prevent safer space violations before they occur, rather than deal with them afterwords.

Union organising, human rights campaigning, and Safer Spaces are all works in progress — from agreement on basic principles for action, to appreciation of personal, political, and cultural differences, to agreeing policies and being ready to implement and monitor them.

Our goals for the Industrial Workers of the World are equality, solidarity, and action for workers rights and social change. We realise that reaching these goals requires organisational strategies. The first of these is individual and collective
commitment to relating to others as equals, in an honest and compassionate way. That is the essence of Safer Spaces and human rights campaigning, and the right path for radical unionism.

Contact us at:

westscotland[at]iww.org.uk

‘Equality, Radical Unionism, and Safer Spaces’ (pdf file)

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MAYDAY EVENTS FOR 2018

MAY DAY START TO MAY DAY WEEK

TUESDAY, MAY 1ST…
 

A Local Event Celebrating an International Holiday for Working Class Solidarity

 

PARADE  Gathering at the cenotaph in George Square at 11.30 am, the heading up Buchanan Street with a Radical Scotland banner and placards to Dewar’s statue.  Songs, chants, and noise makers welcomed.

RALLY at the concert hall steps, Buchanan Street, 12 noon- 2pm; street stalls, musicians, sing-a-long, open mic; bring songs to sing and things to say about workers’ rights and human rights in this age of austerity, precarity, and surveillance.

Website for more May Day events co-sponsored by the Clydeside Branch of the IWW: mayday.link

 

SPREAD THE WORD!

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International Women’s Day, 8 March, 2018, Glasgow

An International Women’s Day event, initiated by the Equality Officers of the Clydeside Branch of the Industrial Workers of the World, will be held on Thursday, the 8th of March.

The rally and Walk of Pride will assemble at 4.30 pm at the La Pasionaria statue located on the north bank of the River Clyde next to Glasgow Bridge, opposite the Custom House on Clyde Street.

This site was chosen because of the prominent role Dolores Ibarruri, called La Pasionaria (‘The Passionate Flower’) played in the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939, in defense of the Spanish Republic ; and because the statue of her by sculptor Arthur Dooley so beautifully represents the revolutionary woman of courage that she was– and that many of us strive to be.

The rally will also honour the Scottish revolutionary, Ethel MacDonald, who was a key figure in the Scottish anarchist movement and in the Spanish Civil War.  In 1936 she was sent by the United Socialist Movement to Barcelona where she became world-renowned as the English-speaking reporter for an anarchist radio station. She also remained an activist, daringly organising hunger strikes among the political prisoners, smuggling in letters, and helping some escape .

The rally will feature a banner that says Celebrate International Women’s Day For a World Free from Capitalism and Patriarchy, singing,  and an open mic.

At 5.30 pm we will start our Walk of Pride, with banner and placards, to George Square where we will join up with the Scottish Irish Abortion Rights campaigners for a #Solidarity4Repeal demo at 6 pm– thus linking it to one of the most critical issues of the day: access to abortion as a woman’s right.

Throughout the afternoon, we will be proudly expressing our belief that Sisterhood, and Comradeship, are Powerful!

All are welcome to attend. Please spread the word.  More information is available from doraziosusan92@gmail.com.

 

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Sma Shot Day 2017 – Paisley

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May Day on the Green 2017

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