Anarcho-Syndicalist Organizations – Operating Principles

By Ann Kij

Last week I wrote some advice about what to consider if you want to start an anarcho-syndicalist organization. That advice concerned mainly focusing on your activity. Another important area would be setting out your operating principles in line with anarcho-syndicalist practice.

Mostly this means writing good statutes for the organization. If we look through the statutes of existing organizations, we see many different provisions, but some common elements. The common elements rest on the idea that the decision making in the organization should come from below and that anybody who is chosen to perform a function in the organization should be held accountable, be recallable and should be rotated. These ideas are very important, because anarcho-syndicalists aim to create a libertarian society and thus, the strive to embody these ideas in the functioning of their organizations.

Statutes of an organization can be quite different. Some organizations choose to put some of the more detailed rules in some sort of internal document or resolve them but don’t put them in the Statutes at all. For example, most organizations appoint a Secretary of some sort to answer the mail. The organization may decide what they want done with the mail: do they want all correspondence forwarded as it is received, do they want it sent in a digest or bulletin, do they want it archived and preserved? And the organization might also think, is there any mail which the Secretary cannot answer without a decision of the organization? For example, requests for endorsements or mail that concern international referenda. In any case, these detailled points may or may not be written in the organization’s statutes. The organization may decide to define the mandates of people appointed in seperate documents.

When drawing up statutes, it is important that the founding group think about the form of the organization at the point of creation and what will realistically be its size and scope in the first years. Statutes can and should be defined later, but my the new people in the organization and based on experience and need. For example, a larger anarcho-syndicalist organization may have regional organizations. And then it might have to think of how it functions, whether votes in the organization come from local organizations to regions and then organization wide, or directly from local organizations to the whole organization. The statute of my organization envisoned regional organizations from the beginning and they are in the statutes, but since they never existed, we have never had to decide anything about how they function (although I presume we would not want to vote through regionals and I also presume if any regionals do appear in the future, it will start off in one region and for practical reasons). Once I saw that an organization which was forming actually adopted a statute which already should how the organization would theoretically function if it had hundreds or thousands of people. It was a good exercise in thinking theoretically about how organizations can function – but all of it had no application to an organization that barely had local groups in more than one city.

So it is not necessary to get ahead of yourself. As your organization develops, you will see what needs to be added to your statutes and maybe what needs to be changed. These discussions should take place in the organization from time to time.

What is important to determine are the basics:
How is voting done in the organization? Is it by individual votes, votes of the local groups or unions?

What are the organizational units in the organization? Is it a local group, a branch union, a workplace union or all of these? How many people does it take to form an organizational unit?

Who decides if a new organizational unit can be part of your organization?
What are the rights and responsibilities of members? What about dues? How are they affiliated or disaffiliated? Who decides about the affiliation or disaffiliation of a member?

Are there any limitations to membership?

How are decisions made? Which decisions should be the decisions of the local group and of the entire organization? Are they made at organization-wide meetings or can they be made through referendum? How are motions submitted and within what time frame?
What tasks need to be done by a mandated person in the organization? What are the mandated functions of these people, what can they do on their own and what do they need to ask the organization about? What is the accountability proceed, the term of the mandate and the process for recalling them, if need be?

This is just the very basics. As an organization actually functions, it can get more complicated.

Some organizations start very modestly. At the beginning stages, it might even be a dozen or a few dozen people and many start a mailing list, where opinions tend to be personal ones and that’s what discussions look like. As the organization grows bigger, there should be a move away from this, as the discussions should be inside the unions and the discussion between the member organizations, not the individuals who have the most time to discuss on some forums. Talking things out through the unions makes the process longer, but we have to think about what we are actually proposing. We are proposing a society where decisions are made on one level and brought to another group of people to be made on another level. The type of process seen in some informal groups, which usually are not many people, is not appropriate when an organization gets larger. But if you are just starting an organization, you do not have to take a form of organization that is not practical for you yet. However, it is worth being aware of things like this so that you are ready to change as your organization develops.

Leave a Reply