By Frank, Kevin & Mike Harris
Over the weekend of May 21-22, 2010 the Workers Solidarity Alliance (WSA) held its 1st Continental Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The conference was hosted by the Twin Cities WSA local and held in the IWW local office located at the historic Grain Belt Bottling House in Northeast Minneapolis. In attendance were members from California, Canada, Connecticut, Florida, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York and Virginia.
One veteran member noted that during 25 years of existence, this conference was one of the larger ones. The conference marked an important turning point in the rebuilding of the WSA. During the past few years WSA has seen a modest yet steady increase of membership. Hopefully this is a glimpse into a future of increased growth and collective activities. Similarly reflective was the financial report, which showed for the first time in years a sizable reserve of funds despite several large expenditures during the last year – funds that will go into various forms of solidarity, and building up our organizational infrastructure.
Over the past two years, WSA has become a continental organization. Although comrades from Montreal were at our founding conference in 1984, the relationship did not mature into an organic one (mainly due to distance). The current effort at building WSA along continental lines is an organic outgrowth of common work and relations with comrades in Edmonton, Alberta and a lone member in Ontario. Due to a membership spread out across the U.S. and Canada, and with no real interaction other than through email lists. This helped to personalize and solidify the bonds between comrades that only a face to face meeting can bring. Some of us have never met in person and some have not seen one another in awhile. Nonetheless, it was great getting comrades together to put a face to the many voices and emails and establish personal connections with folks committed to the WSA’s brand of class struggle anarchism.
Saturday kicked off at 9:30 A.M. with a group of hot, sweaty and some real tired comrades ready to get things going. After electing the facilitator, minutes taker and time keeper, we moved on to the Corresponding Secretary reading all of the comradely greetings sent to the WSA conference from our ally organizations here in the U.S. and internationally.* We then moved onto the Corresponding Secretary report. The report provided an overview of the WSA, our ups and downs, and recalling comrades who played important roles during our early years and are no longer with us.
The report noted with some pride that after our brutal internal/external struggles of 1999 and early 2000, when membership hovered between 10-12 members, after steady work and patience at rebuilding, WSA now has 50 members. This represents the greatest number of members since the 1990s.
It was reported that members and Local group’s activities tend to differ widely, in general, though, not inconsistently. Some of these activities include the production of the new on-line version of ideas & action, workplace and union organizing, including work within the IWW and within the reformist unions; Lansing Workers Center; student organizing; tenant/housing organizing; queer organizing and reproductive freedom; solidarity with workers in Boron, CA and Claremont, CA; the Inter-Organizational Labor/Labour Working Group and the Class Struggle Anarchist Conference (CSAC) to name a few areas of work.
After local and individual member reports, we began a wide ranging discussion on relationship with local leftist groups, coalition building and the anarchist movement in general. The dialog was felt to be generally productive in showing what type of relationship the WSA ought to have with non-anarchist leftists and with anarchist organizations in general.
The conversation moved to what role, if any, the WSA should play in specific issue oriented and mass struggles in general. Some general working suggestions ranged from social insertion within mass movements to limited coalition building. It was agreed that the overall aim of pro-organizational class struggle anarchist presence is building forms and structures which are libertarian in content. Such actions and activities will help to build an alternative to what the authoritarian left and reformists propose.
The discussion definitely opened up ideas of how to tactically work within these groupings and dealing with it appropriately when the time comes and helps each local group to develop with interacting with other tendencies outside of our own. The main thing is making sure WSA groups out there and active.
After this discussion, three founding WSA members gave a history of the WSA and how the group became the WSA. Each told us about their background and what brought them into anarchism and that they became involved in anarchism because of doing rank-and file union work, involvement in the IWW and the conditions of the time. They talked about how there was no real class struggle anarchist movement in the 70’s and 80’s. They discussed the forming of the Anarchist Communist Federation of North America that was founded in the late 1970’s. Those ACF members who later went on to form the WSA belonged to the Milwaukee group the Syndicalist Alliance and the NY area Libertarian Workers Group and participants in the libertarian socialist NYC publication Against the Grain (ATG). As ATG started to dissolve the ATG anarcho-syndicalist’s came over to the Libertarian Workers Group. The LWG constituted the U.S. section of the International Workers Association (IWA/AIT), as did the Syndicalist Alliance. This solidified the IWA’s presence in the U.S. since the time of the International Working Peoples Association more than a century earlier.
During this time period, ex-Syndicalist Alliance and L.W.G. members, along with other ex-ACFers (mainly in Toronto and Montreal) continued to work together on the North American anarchist newspaper Strike! Concurrently, these founding WSA members began to work on another publishing project, ideas & action. As time progressed, “some militants discussed forming a national organization of anarcho-syndicalists” which in November 1984, during a Thanksgiving weekend, the Workers Solidarity Alliance held its first conference.
Moving on from there was discussion “how to learn from the history and pitfalls of prior attempts at regroupment” (the ACF). It was suggested that a previous problem was that many local groups saw as primary to their struggle either class, race or gender only and posed the question of how to integrate different strands and still have a functioning organization. Another area of interest was the question of organizational structure in a “regrouped” organization. Is it best to be an alliance, a unitary organization, a federation of previously independent groups, organizations, collectives which federate into a broader organization or something else?
While there was no definitive answer, nor was that the goal, the conversation was interesting and merely an opening discussion on several larger questions. It was generally agreed upon that the “today’s mindset” is different from the late 1970s because of greater numbers and, generally more informed, class struggle anarchists (due to the internet). In terms of WSA we have done our best to “mediate influences by their commonalities, rather than minute theoretical or historical differences”.
This lead to a general discussion on organizing strategy. We all had an opportunity to give our input on what the organizational strategy for the WSA ought to be. The suggestions varied from member to member. The collective conclusion’s we reached are the importance to develop functioning local groups; developing literature and the importance of membership development and participation. The conference also developed a set of organizational goals that included short and long term “mass” work.
A broad range of proposals were discussed and recommended for membership adoption. Discussions mainly focused on constitutional changes for WSA membership, formation of struggle specific commissions and task oriented working groups. The conference can only make recommendations with final acceptance or rejection by post-conference membership ballot. Once balloting has been completed we shall post the contents of the proposals.
Upon ending Day 1 of the Conference, all seemed to be pleased with the conference and the level of unity which exists. The conference was ahead of schedule which pleased everyone.
In spite of the heat and humidity, tiredness and the compressed time for some (due to early departures), the conference moved forward. Sunday’s discussion focused on our efforts to strengthen and build our internal organization, furthering our outreach strategies, continuing the discussion on rounding out an action plan and external relations.
The external relations discussion varied widely, yet all agreed with the need to maintain and build external relations. We reaffirmed “our commitment to fostering mutual respect and building good, solid and cooperative inter-organizational relations between North American and international class struggle anarchists. …. WSA seeks to engage our allies in the most constructive and meaningful manner while maintaining our own organizational integrity.”
On the existing inter-organizational projects, WSA recommitted to the “North American Inter-Organizational Discussion Bulletin” and working groups.
It was reported that the “Labor/Labour Inter-organizational Working Group” (IO-LWG) currently has 50 CSAC allies signed on to the IO-LWG email list. IO-LWG allies participated at the April Labor Notes Conference in Detroit. At the LN Conference, a proposal to put out an IO-LWG newsletter was suggested by a CSAC ally. WSA members agreed to this newsletter in principle, but specifics need to be explored.
Hartford comrades discussed their interest in forming a “Housing Inter-Organizational Working Group. The comrades hope to re-initiate a conversation with other CSAC allies this August.
The Class Struggle Anarchist Conference (CSAC)
When CSAC was discussed the main issue was whether or not it needs to held on a bi-annual basis because of many organizations spending lots of their resources getting members there. There was general agreement that after the 2011 CSA Conference, the conferences should be held bi-annually. This will not tax each organization’s resources and will allow for members to attend the Labor Notes and IWW Conferences without blowing out individual resources and time.
In regard to CSAC in general, some WSA members felt that CSAC is an important event and part of building better inter-organizational relations. Others suggested it served towards a longer term regroupment process. A brief discussion on the possibilities that a premature regroupment based on lack of unity could lead to factionalism and break-up. One comrade suggested that the “[n]ext CSAC conference should define points of unity and put that forward.” While there was no real discussion on that point, there seemed to be general agreement that WSA needs to focus on where WSA wants to go as a free standing organization; need to be cognizant of WSA role in CSAC, and continue internal discussion about CSAC within WSA. WSA needs to further clarify perspectives on regroupement internally and how to raise respectful discussion with other organizations outside of WSA.
Internet and Print Materials
We agreed to make an effort to allow our website to more accessible to disabled people. Comrades further agreed with the need to provide more written materials for circulation. We will also be developing position papers based on sections of our “Where We Stand” document.
Nomination and Election of Officers, Regional Delegates and Location of next WSA meeting
The process of nominating the WSA Corresponding Secretary, Treasurer and Regional Delegates was opened at the conference. Delegates and Officers are scheduled to take office on January 1, 2011.
There are two possible locations for next year’s meeting, either Edmonton or Hartford. The location will be decided no later January 1, 2011.
End of Day 2
In closing, comrades agreed that the conference went well overall. There was a lot of unity and agreement and a general good will to collective and respectfully work tackle the work at hand and when we return to our respective homes.
In conversation off the conference floor, it was clear to most that one of the best things about the conference is that there was a large turnout of very solid, committed class struggle anarchists. Folks who only really knew and worked together on-line got to discuss and debate one another at the conference. During social time, we got to know each other on personal level. All and all, the WSA conference was a success and look forward to the many great projects and actions of the WSA within the following year.
* Greetings were received from the Lansing Workers Center, Federazione dei Comunisti Anarchici (FdCA) , Solidarity Federation-IWA, Freie Arbeiterinnen- und Arbeiter- Union (FAU-IWA),Irish Workers Solidarity Movement, Swedish Syndicalists – SAC, Union Communiste Libertaire (UCL), Francophone Fédération Anarchiste (FAF), Common Action, Miami Autonomy and Solidarity (MAS), Aotearoa Workers Solidarity Movement, Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front (ZACF), Motmakt (CounterPower,Norway), ZSP-IWA (Polish Syndicalists), First of May Anarchist Alliance, Northeast Federation of Anarchist Communists (NEFAC), For World in Common, Melbourne Anarchist Communist Group