Solidarity Federation

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Solidarity Federation
SolFed Logo.png
Full name Solidarity Federation
Founded 1950
Affiliation International Workers Association
Country United Kingdom
Website www.solfed.org.uk
Syndicalism
"The Hand That Will Rule The World—One Big Union"

The Solidarity Federation, also known by the abbreviation SolFed, is a federation of class struggle anarchists active in Britain. The organisation advocates a strategy of anarcho-syndicalism as a method of abolishing capitalism and the state, and describes itself as a "revolutionary union".[1] In 1994 it adopted its current name, having previously been the Direct Action Movement since 1979, and before that the Syndicalist Workers' Federation since 1950.

Along with the Anarchist Federation it is one of the two anarchist federations active in the UK.

History[edit]

Syndicalist Workers' Federation[edit]

The Syndicalist Workers' Federation was a syndicalist group in active in post-war Britain,[2] and one of the Solidarity Federation's earliest predecessors. It was formed in 1950 by members of the dissolved Anarchist Federation of Britain (not to be confused with the current Anarchist Federation which was founded as the Anarchist Communist Federation in 1986). Unlike the AFB, which was influenced by anarcho-syndicalist ideas but ultimately not syndicalist itself, the SWF decided to pursue a more definitely syndicalist, worker-centred strategy from the outset.

The group joined the International Workers Association and during the Franco era gave particular support to the Spanish resistance and the underground CNT anarcho-syndicalist union, previously involved in the 1936 Spanish Revolution and subsequent Civil War against a right-wing military coup backed by both Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. The SWF initially had some success, but when Tom Brown, a long-term and very active member was forced out of activity, it declined until by 1979 it had one lone branch in Manchester. The SWF then dissolved itself into the group founded as the Direct Action Movement.

Its archives are held by the International Institute of Social History, and a selection of the SWFs publication have been digitally published on libcom.org.

Direct Action Movement[edit]

The Direct Action Movement was formed in 1979, when the one remaining SWF branch, along with other smaller anarchist groups, decided to form a new organisation of anarcho-syndicalists in Britain.[3]

The DAM was highly involved in the Miners' Strike as well as a series of industrial disputes later in the 1980s, including the Ardbride dispute in Ardrossan, Scotland, involving a supplier to Laura Ashley, for which the DAM received international support. From 1988 in Scotland, then England and Wales, the DAM was active in opposing the Poll Tax.[4]

In the early 1990s, DAM members set up the Despatch Industry Workers Union, which successfully organised workers for a number of inner-city courier firms.[5]

The DAM was also involved in Anti-Fascist Action (AFA), and was committed to physically combatting British fascist and far-right groups. It often had encounters with groups such as the National Front and the British National Party. Anti-fascist activities in places such as Liverpool, Yorkshire, Bristol and Norwich were heavily influenced by local anarchists. Similarly anarchists, in particular the DAM, were the first to question the motives and tactics of the anti-fascist Searchlight magazine.

In March 1994, DAM changed its name to the Solidarity Federation.[6]

Structure[edit]

Federalism[edit]

The Solidarity Federation organises according to the principles of anarchist federalism. The base unit of the federation is the Local, groups of members based within a specific geographical area. These local groups are autonomous, within the bounds laid out in the Solidarity Federation's constitution. These local groups come together as a confederation to form the national organisation. This most importantly manifests at the national conference, where each local presents a delegate to represent them. These local delegates do not act independently, but instead are guided by the mandate (formal instructions) their fellow members have given them. In this way, the Solidarity Federation is an attempt at a working grassroots democracy. This confederated national conference is the highest decision making body in the Solidarity Federation.

Internationally, the Solidarity Federation forms the British section of International Workers Association, an international federation of anarcho-syndicalist unions and groups. With the IWA also following the principles of federalism, the Solidarity Federation plays a role in the IWA similar to that of a local in SolFed, as a group of members organised by geographical region. All SolFed members are automatically members of the IWA.

Workplace organising[edit]

Industrial Networks[edit]

Solidarity Federation members who work in the same employment sector have formed Industrial Networks. Their purpose is to promote solidarity amongst workers and focus on developing and implementing a direct action strategy to fight for better pay and conditions in their industry.

Organiser Training (open course)[edit]

Solidarity Federation are responsible for supplying volunteer staff to run a workplace organiser training course intended to "give people the tools and confidence to organise in their workplaces and win grievances".[7] This training is open to non-members and focuses on how building a 'shop committee' can form a platform by which to initiate an effective anarcho-syndicalist approach to workplace issues.

In addition, training on supporting direct action casework is provided by members involved in the hospitality workers and housing campaigns.

Activities[edit]

Workmates[edit]

Badges distributed by the Workmates delegates council and worn by London Underground track maintenance workers and tube staff from 1999-2001

In the late 1990s, track maintenance workers on the London Underground faced being outsourced to a private contractor under a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) scheme. The aim of the PPP was to cut costs by introducing competitive tendering by private contractors to do the work which had previously been done in-house. This casualisation would undercut the hard-won terms and conditions of London Underground staff and replace relative job security with the temporary, insecure employment that has become so widespread under the mantra of the ‘flexible labour market’.

London Underground workers were mainly organised with the Rail, Maritime and Transport union. However third-party contractors and casual staff were typically not unionised. Andy, an RMT union rep and anarchist, sought to utilise anarcho-syndicalist tactics like mass meetings and on-the-job direct action to overcome divisions between union and non-union workers, and build resistance to the increasing privatisation and outsourcing on the London Underground, itself a tactic used to divide and rule the workforce.

This led to the founding of the Workmates collective in late 1998/early 1999, a workplace group based out of a London maintenance depot. Workmates was open to all workers regardless of union membership, and sought to organise action on the shop floor, controlled by the workers themselves. The Workmates collective was fully functioning with a delegate council structure for around 18 months into mid-2000. During this time they organised numerous actions with varying degrees of success until staff turnover and the strain on a small number of core activists took its toll. Despite this, the culture of canteen mass meetings has continued for the last decade, and workplace meetings open to all workers are ongoing as of 2011.[8]

An account of the collective is documented in the Workmates pamphlet.

End Unpaid Work[edit]

SolFed End Unpaid Work campaign logo for 2012

In early 2012, Solidarity Federation initiated a national campaign against workfare.[9] The organisation describe workfare as a government initiative to implement 'schemes in which people are forced to work without wages in order to receive their benefits'.[10] Solidarity Federation further claim that workfare is 'part of a long term re-structuring of the labour market towards more temporary, lower paid jobs and with poorer conditions and fewer benefits'[11] by 'placing significant downward pressure on the wages and conditions of those of us who work.'[11]

The campaign initially focused specifically on Holland and Barrett, a health supplement corporation making use of placements staffed by unpaid benefits claimants. On 5 July 2012, after a sustained series of pickets at Holland and Barrett stores across the UK, the company announced via social media and its website that it was pulling out of the workfare scheme, citing negative publicity.[12][13][14] This announcement came just days before a national 'week of action against workfare', organised jointly with Boycott Workfare, was due to begin.[14]A Solidarity Federation spokesperson speaking to The Guardian newspaper described the victory as:

...not just a victory for claimants, [but] a victory for all of us as workfare undermines pay and conditions [15]

Later targets for pickets included Poundland, with pickets taking place in several cities.[16]

Sussex University Pop Up Union[edit]

Members of the Brighton Solidarity Federation local were heavily involved in the organisation of a pop up union at the University of Sussex in 2013. The pop up union was set up in response to plans to outsource 235 workers to private firms,[17] which led to a large protest campaign on the Sussex campus including demonstrations and the occupation of the university conference centre.[18]

The pop up union was formed for the purpose of enabling staff to take part in legally recognised strike action, something the existing unions on campus had been unwilling to do despite strong support in indicative ballots.[19] The pop up union required workers to pay a small notional membership fee to join, and quickly grew to be the second largest union on the university campus[19]. It held a ballot on taking strike action in May 2013[20] which led to a vote to strike. However, this was annulled following legal challenge by the university.[19]

An assessment of the pop up union by SolFed members involved in its organisation, The Pop Up Union: a postmortem, was publised on the Solidarity Federation website.

Hospitality Workers Campaign[edit]

In October 2013 the Brighton local launched a campaign to organise hospitality workers in the city. Spearheaded by Solidarity Federation members working in the sector, the campaign focuses on building solidarity amongst workers across the sector and taking action regarding issues including below minimum wage pay, long shifts without breaks, the lack of written or verbal contracts, unpaid overtime, unlawful deductions from wages and no holiday entitlement.[21] Weekly drop in sessions are held for workers in the sector to bring issues and to discuss potential campaigns of action.[22]

A campaign will usually begin with a demand letter being presented to the employer, stating the grievance, what is demanded and the timescale within which these demands should be met otherwise the campaign will be escalated. Tactics for escalation include boycotts, publicity, phone and email blockades and pickets of the workplace. As much as possible the campaign seeks to involve the worker and their colleagues in the campaign and to involve workers from other disputes.

The Brighton Solidarity Federation website mentions 21 previous disputes, with £10,624 in owed wages and holiday entitlement listed as having been paid.[23]

A similar campaign was launched by hospitality workers in the Liverpool local in August 2017.[24]

Brighton Housing Campaign[edit]

Since 2015, the Brighton local has been publicly campaigning on issues around rented housing.[25] Similar to the hospitality workers campaign the local holds weekly drop ins to help tennants to organise around issues including agency fees, witheld deposits and poor housing conditions. It has been involved in a number of campaigns targetting landlords and estate agents who provide substandard housing or withold money owed.

One article from November 2017 mentions three successful cases from the proceeding three months. The cases led to £6,510 being paid to tenants as compensation and to repairs being carried out as a result of the campaign.[26]

Bristol Care Workers Network[edit]

In June 2017 Bristol local founded the Bristol Care Workers Network.[27] This is a network of health and social care workers seeking to organise for better rights, pay and terms for workers in the sector. Whilst not formally part of the Solidarity Federation it retains close links to the organisation.[28]

Publications[edit]

Over its history the Solidarity Federation has produced a number of pamphlets and publications. Traditionally the organisation published the quarterly magazine Direct Action as well as the newspaper Catalyst, though both are currently on hiatus. Several locals and networks publish their own newsletters.

Some of the older publications it has produced can be found on its website[29] as well as being archived by the Sparrow's Nest collective.[30]

Theory and Practice[edit]

The Theory and Practice series of pamphlets describe industrial and direct action taken by anarcho-syndicalists and how these relate to anarcho-syndicalist theory. The first, Workmates, discusses the Workmates collective's campaign against outsourcing on the London Underground in the 1990s and 2000s. The second, Anarcho-syndicalism in Puerto Real, relates to the CNT's involvement in the campaign against the closure of shipyards in Puerto Real in 1987 and how it shaped the methods of organising and types of action taken.

Know Your Rights[edit]

The Solidarity Federation produces and regularly updates two general guides to workplace and tenant's rights, titled The Stuff Your Boss Doesn't Want You to Know and The Stuff Your Landlord Doesn't Want You to Know. In addition, it produces a leaflet titled Office Worker's Health and Safety relating specifically to health and safety issues in offices.

Strike: A Guide to Walking Out[edit]

Strike: A Guide to Walking Out is a pamphlet produced by the North London local providing advice for workers looking to go on strike. The guide provides advice for building support for a strike, organising a picket line and how to deal with colleagues who refuse to go on strike.

Fighting for Ourselves[edit]

In October 2012 the Solidarity Federation released Fighting For Ourselves: Anarcho-syndicalism and the Class Struggle. This 124 page pamphlet describes the history of anarcho-syndicalist thought, how it relates to other traditions and the anarcho-syndicalist vision for social and economic revolution. The pamphlet was formally launched at an event in Edinburgh.[31]

Migrant's Guides[edit]

London - A Migrant's Guide was first published by the North London local in October 2014. The guide provides basic advice for migrants on life in London, including housing and workplace issues, public transport, health and welfare services and opening a bank account. The guide has been translated into several languages, including Spanish and Polish.

The Manchester local has produced a similar guide, A Migrant's Guide to Manchester, which is available in English and Spanish and was released in September 2016.[32]

Is Your Cleaning Job Killing You[edit]

In October 2017 the Manchester local published Is Your Cleaning Job Killing You: A Cleaners Guide to Health and Safety. The pamphlet describes common health risks associated with cleaning work as well as providing advice for organising to improve workplace health and safety.

Locals[edit]

  • Brighton
  • Bristol
  • Calderdale
  • Edinburgh
  • Liverpool
  • Manchester
  • North London
  • South London
  • Thames Valley

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ http://www.solfed.org.uk/solfed-industrial-strategy
  2. ^ Encyclopedia of British and Irish Political Organizations'. United Kingdom: Pinter Publishers. 2000. ISBN 978-1855672642. 
  3. ^ http://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/x69qfd
  4. ^ Meltzer, Albert (2001). I Couldn't Paint Golden Angels. United Kingdom: AK Press. ISBN 978-1873176931. 
  5. ^ http://libcom.org/library/the-couriers-are-revolting-the-despatch-industry-workers-union-1989-1992
  6. ^ "Solidarity Federation". edinburghanarchists.noflag.org.uk. Retrieved 2016-12-21. 
  7. ^ http://www.solfed.org.uk/organiser-training
  8. ^ Workmates. United Kingdom: Solidarity Federation. 2011. 
  9. ^ http://www.solfed.org.uk/campaigns/workfare
  10. ^ http://www.solfed.org.uk/unwaged-workers/abolish-workfare-the-solidarity-federations-guide-to-the-governments-unpaid-work
  11. ^ a b Abolish Workfare (PDF). United Kingdom: Solidarity Federation. 2012. 
  12. ^ "Statement regarding Holland & Barrett and the Government Work Experience scheme". Holland and Barrett. Retrieved 16 July 2012. 
  13. ^ http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/politics/2012/07/workfare-goes-underground-holland-and-barrett-pull-out
  14. ^ a b http://www.solfed.org.uk/brighton/a-domino-falls-holland-barrett-quit-workfare-after-direct-action
  15. ^ https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2012/jul/06/holland-and-barrett-jobseekers-scheme
  16. ^ "Poundland | Solidarity Federation". www.solfed.org.uk. Retrieved 2018-01-11. 
  17. ^ "Outsourcing at Sussex | Sussex Students' Union". www.sussexstudent.com. Retrieved 2018-01-11. 
  18. ^ "Anti-privatisation struggle gathers momentum at Sussex Uni". libcom.org. Retrieved 2018-01-11. 
  19. ^ a b c "The Pop Up Union: a postmortem | Solidarity Federation". www.solfed.org.uk. Retrieved 2018-01-11. 
  20. ^ "Pop-Up Union to ballot for strike | Solidarity Federation". www.solfed.org.uk. Retrieved 2018-01-11. 
  21. ^ "Brighton Hospitality Workers launched | Solidarity Federation". www.solfed.org.uk. Retrieved 2018-01-11. 
  22. ^ "Do you work in the hospitality sector? | Solidarity Federation". www.solfed.org.uk. Retrieved 2018-01-11. 
  23. ^ "Hospitality | Brighton SolFed". www.brightonsolfed.org.uk. Retrieved 2018-01-11. 
  24. ^ "Stop abuses in hospitality sector! | Solidarity Federation". www.solfed.org.uk. Retrieved 2018-01-11. 
  25. ^ ""They think they can do whatever they want" - a tenant's story | Brighton SolFed". www.brightonsolfed.org.uk. Retrieved 2018-01-11. 
  26. ^ "Brighton SolFed Housing Union round-up: three months, three victories | Solidarity Federation". www.solfed.org.uk. Retrieved 2018-01-11. 
  27. ^ "Bristol Care Workers Network". Bristol Care Workers Network. Retrieved 2018-01-11. 
  28. ^ "About us". Bristol Care Workers Network. 2017-06-03. Retrieved 2018-01-11. 
  29. ^ "SolFed pamphlets and posters | Solidarity Federation". www.solfed.org.uk. Retrieved 2018-01-11. 
  30. ^ "The Sparrows' Nest Library and Archive - Welcome to The Sparrows' Nest, Nottingham". thesparrowsnest.org.uk. Retrieved 2018-01-12. 
  31. ^ "'Fighting for ourselves' SolFed Book Launch Edinburgh Thurs. 28th Feb. 8p.m.-9.30p.m. | Solidarity Federation". www.solfed.org.uk. Retrieved 2018-01-11. 
  32. ^ "A Migrant's Guide to Manchester | Solidarity Federation". www.solfed.org.uk. Retrieved 2018-01-12. 

External links[edit]