Why Anarchists Can’t Be Absent From the New Wave of Labor Militancy

tfw workerists think the anti-work moment is a time ripe for workerism

via It's Going Down

Anarchists must push for self-organization, direct action and mutual aid in the midst of a wave of mass strikes, workers walking off the job, and growing anger at rising inequality.

The month of October was the start of what has been called “Striketober” a massive wave of labor strikes across the so called United States. An estimated 100,000 workers mobilized on the job as their union contracts expired and while this is normal protocol for unions what happened next was inspiring. A “rank and file” revolt began at various unions, disregarding union admin’s wishes and demanding more. UAW workers at John Deere voted down a contract enforced by UAW officers, Kellogg workers are demanding more than what their job and previous union contracts have given. On top of this, there has been immense internal change for business unions. The Teamsters, long dominated by the son of Hoffa, and his particular strategy of screwing over workers, was dethroned by a grassroots Teamsters movement that promised more militancy. After a decades long grassroots campaign, UAW workers recently won democratic voting for it’s union structure. This signals an increased militancy or want of militancy by rank and file union members.

This wave was unsurprising given the immense dehumanization of the previous year as a result of the pandemic. What was surprising was the level of coverage. Mainstream news was having a filed day reporting on this level of militancy with many agencies having no idea how to report on a strike because this was their first time doing so. It seemed that almost every form of media was buzzing with strikes and unions especially so for more progressive and revolutionary circles.

That is however except for this outlet which was surprisingly absent of any coverage or pieces even passingly mentioning this strike wave. Even the more spontaneous “Great Resignation” which some have likened to a general strike has seemingly not been reported on by anyone writing for IGD. This is not to say that what was published in October and November was unimportant, in fact a lot of what came out in those months were very urgent and important. But it is interesting that there is little presence of anarchist organizing in the workplace, the place that most of our lives still revolve around.

This is nothing new, as anarchist labor organizing declined in the U.S. before World War 2 and was in free fall along with all other forms of labor organizing in the 1970s. If recent pieces published in IGD are anything to go by then most anarchists and abolitionists don’t place much importance in labor specific organizing. Most see anarcho-syndicalism as a stuffy dead ideology and anarcho-syndicalists as larpers out of touch with reality. But the reality is that strikes and workplace direct actions are one of the most important tools that workers have against capitalism, a tool that has been missing from the anarchist tool belt for some time. One of the main reasons why capitalism is struggling so much currently has in part to do with the absence of workers, either because so many of us have died or so many have simply walked away from the job. It is also true that nothing scares the shit out of bosses more than a union drive, as evident from Starbucks and Amazon‘s massive attempts to crush recent drives.

I am not demanding that everyone join a union more so I am asking fellow anarchists and abolitionists to start organizing the one place we’ve largely been absent from: the workplace. I am advocating to not just have an affinity group outside of the job but to take direct action at jobs themselves. So long as we largely remain outside the workplace, we not only lose a valuable battle ground we also lose a large number of people open to our ideas. Even if you think that anarcho-syndicalism could never progress out of the 20th century I implore you to still read simply because labor organizing itself is valuable tool. Capitalism and the state are multifaceted entities with moving parts and in order to dismantle such systems we need to engage in a war on all fronts.
The Workplace

Most critiques of labor organizing from anarchists and even non-anarchists is that the modern day workplace is a different beast from what came before. There is a sense that starting in the 1970s and ramping up in the 90s that work altered so significantly that now labor organizing can not keep up. It is definitely true that capitalism of the late 20th century has been altered numerous times till now and the most obvious example is the loss of manufacturing jobs that unions traditionally organized in. Technology has advanced rapidly, many jobs are automated and many jobs as David Graber so eloquently put it are bullshit jobs that serve no purpose other than to provide a job. There’s temp workers galore, along with independent contractors, tech jobs, and some jobs where workers don’t even work together. On top of these horrendous new forms subjugation many jobs like Amazon are run via algorithms that remove the “human face” of capitalism. To many then it seems as if labor organizing can’t compete with these changes and for the old tactics that’s correct but we must ask what has fundamentally changed?

What had fundamentally altered in the workplace? Many theorized that the workplace would erode, evolve into something hellish. Automation run amok or the destruction of traditional forms of being as a result of the changes of capitalism. However something even worse has happened. The workplace didn’t erode or evolve rather it multiplied!

It’s not that “work” or our expenditure of time focused on a meaningless task to produce profit for little pay has changed, but more our relationship to work has changed. Most people still work a job except now they work two or three. We still get paid, but now its less and for some it’s piecemeal or not at a fixed rate. We still have bosses but now those bosses are faceless or don’t exist and we’re being ordered around by a machine. We still have co-workers but like most people we’re alienated.

So fundamentally the relation is the same its just that variances in that relationship now exist. If you’re a stuffy business union focused on keeping the peace then of course you’re screwed. The largest union in the United States the AFL-CIO has not grown in new industries because it doesn’t really care to. It’s not focused on advancing liberation, so instead it’s focused on its own stability. Only two mainstream unions have attempted or signaled any kind of movement when it comes new industries. Teamsters for exampled have repeatedly said they will take on the hell that is Amazon. UAW for all its awful faults have successfully organized colleges specifically students, teaching assistants, and researchers, a rather unorthodox industry for a historically industrial union.

Besides this there have been numerous spontaneous workplace actions from non-industrial industries. Numerous tech companies have had walkouts over sexual assaults and ethical concerns over AI. In the video game industry there have been consistent organizing, from Riot games employees staging walkouts, to the recent efforts of Blizzard-Activison employees fighting against sexism and and a culture of sexual assault at the workplace. Two years ago there was the formation of the Google Employees union that wasn’t so much worried about pay but rather the companies numerous Orwellian maneuvers.

The service industry is still organizable even if it doesn’t seem like it. One of the most recent labor centered pieces published on IGD was about the Burgerville Workers Union that has successfully unionized their fast food workplace. Starbucks workers in Buffalo have been leading a successful campaign recently and will most likely have a union soon. This does not even begin to mention the existing unions and organizing possibilities of grocery stores.

I mention all of this not because these efforts will lead to a revolution but more so to point to the fact that labor organizing is teeming with life still. It’s not that new industries and new jobs are un-organizable, that the game has completely changed but more so a new set of tactics must be used and developed. The workplace didn’t change rather it comes in different flavors of hell. Work itself still exists but our relationship has altered.

Part of this relationship change is that it is much more central to our lives. I am Zoomer so my historical memory may be off but it seems as if we are collectively working more hours. Working a 9-5 job with time off for the weekend seems to most people I talk to as an ever decreasing prospect. We’re working more hours for less pay and this means that our relation to work itself has become more overbearing. There is something sad when my comrades say they cannot take part in an action or can’t attend a meeting because it interferes with their work. In 2020 I knew many people who were trying to juggle their direct action and mutual aid efforts with their work schedule. This isn’t because they loved work or the job they worked at but because there was no other option, that job meant whether or not they would have food. As was true at the start of capitalism, it seems as if there’s only two times we exist under: Work time where we grind along at a place we hate and hope to destroy some day and free time where we can be radicals doing what we love and care for.

Excuse me for saying that this dichotomy blunts our efforts. If we can only be so radical as our work permits it, if we have to manage our actions based on how much free time we have from a job then our lives revolve around work simple as that. By removing labor organizing from our tool belt by leaving the workplace as simply the workplace we fail to develop our freedom. We fail to confront capitalism at its blood flows and fail to free ourselves from the meaninglessness of modern life. We also fail to extend our reach to the very people that need it. Most people probably aren’t in an affinity group already and as such we have to out reach to the wider society. But even people in the same city or community may not see our propaganda, or see our demos and if they work a hell job like most of us they wont have time to. The one place that still draws in large numbers of everyday people dying for radical change is the workplace. Most of your co-workers probably hate or want to hate the system just as much as you do and yet do most show up to meetings? You must ask yourself how many of your co-workers who live in the same community as you regularly show up to actions? If you live in a particularly high density area with culture of anarchism and abolitionism them many probably do turn up. But how many can say the same?

If the workplace. has become unwillingly central to our lives then organizing the workplace must in some way be central to our praxis. Most of your co-workers probably have the same feeling as you but if you don’t reach out how can you know? And what’s the best method of reaching out, how can you organize your dispossessed workers into revolutionary comrades? How can we form workplace affinity groups to do direct struggle against the workplace? A revamped and modern anarcho-syndicalist movement can provide these answers and the tools to make our efforts even more effective.

Anarcho-Syndicalism for Our Time

As mentioned before I get the sense that most people don’t like or don’t care for anarcho-syndicalism. From some articles IGD published few years ago I take it that most people see anarcho-syndicalism as antiquated, that is either/or/and ineffective, un-revolutionary, or counter revolutionary. These critiques have there merits as the initial anarcho-syndicalist movement of the 20th century was definitely stuffy, advocating a movement of one mega anarchist union that would capture the means of production and destroy capitalism. A lot of them had a positive view of work and had no concept of ecology or climate change. But I find it ironic that some, specifically other anarchists can’t fathom that this tendency could change and progress over time. Anarcho-syndicalism did not die in the 30s it still persisted. It has changed over the 100 years its been around and while some are stuck in the past there is a vibrant movement. Numerous writings already exist of what anarcho-syndicalism looks like in the 21st century and many groups around the world still commit to it’s practice. One of the largest internationally organized group of anarchists, the International Workers Association is a specifically anarcho-syndicalist group.

What I offer here is not a complete analysis of anarcho-syndicalist strategy for our time but rather ideas and the approaching of a dialogue. I’m going to explain what this new strategy can look like and what sort of tool it offers to us as anarchists and abolitionists.

A traditional “American Union” will most likely not be attainable as of yet. Previous syndicalist belief was that all workers should join the on ideologically pure anarchist union and then declare a general strike. For various reasons this hasn’t happened and is largely impossible to do. What we could use instead is a workplace specific affinity group or council that organizes on the shop floor. The current labor movement of the U.S. is focused largely on the National Labor Relations Board and the various legal hoops of union certification, card checking and voting. While many unions are formed this way many also die this way and it becomes much harder to do if the union is independent of a larger established business union.

As such what we could all need is an affinity group for the workplace. Not a group of workers organized in a union but a group of workers organizing themselves for their workplace. issues. Such a strategy already has a name “solidarity unionism” and it is a tactic largely used by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). While it doesn’t create a stable union this has been an effective form of organizing direct victories such as increase pay and workplace protections. What separates this from normal labor organizing is the emphasis on direct action and direct worker democracy. Other unions are bound by contract to not cause trouble and can be very bureaucratic. The modern anarcho-syndicalist union has to be fluid, able to impose strikes and stoppages whenever the workers see fit.

Furthermore the strike is a powerful tool that has long since been ignored by modern movements. The stopping of work, and thereby the stopping of profit creation deathly terrifies capitalists which is why they have tried their best to kill the labor movement. An anarcho-syndicalist movement in the U.S. directed by a much larger social movement can offer up the strike as another point of the people’s spear. Corporations will often be able to maintain their power in the face of a protest but will be struggling to survive if that protest was augmented by a workers strike within the workplace. Such inclinations already exist, for example when union bus drivers refused to co-operate with cops during the George Floyd Uprising. This action came from only a handful of workers in one industry – what if similar actions like this were better organized and spread out? What if Monday’s action isn’t merely a protest in the street but a movement that halts the entire city? To have a revamped anarcho-syndicalist movement is to have the strike, the most direct attack on the workplace, back within our use.

Finally mass solidarity. Classical anarcho-syndicalism proposed the idea of a general strike, that once everyone was in the giant union a general strike would be organized and capitalism would fall apart. This is largely impossible to organize but not impossible to achieve. Historic general strikes happened less due to planning and more due to solidarity. Workers of various industries and unions went on strike in solidarity with on union, completely shutting down production and hurting capitalists. A modern day anarcho-syndicalist movement that is fluid and moves whenever the worker goes and wherever an affinity group is established can help to build wider solidarity among workers and develop the skills necessary for that solidarity to be effective. If we politicize the workplace and spread the knowledge of what direct action within the workplace looks like than we can create the kind of solidarity necessary to make social change. As mentioned before, there is already a pseudo general strike happening now and it is ripping apart the systems of capitalism. It is spontaneous but it is not borne out of solidarity and as such can do little more than raise the wages of a few select areas. If the situation was altered however, and the mass resignation we see now was borne out of solidarity and the drive to fundamentally change society than we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now. To build an anarchist labor movement is to develop the skill that will and the spontaneity needed for revolution. The strike and workplace. solidarity are powerful tools and the more we ignore them the more our fight becomes difficult.

Educate, Agitate, Organize

If I’ve convinced you of anything I hope it’s that the labor movement isn’t quite dead yet and that workplace organizing is still important. I don’t care if people think anarcho-syndicalism is dead or stuffy I care that people recognize that by removing ourselves from the workplace as organizers and agitators we remove ourselves from a central battle ground. I also hope that people understand that the strike is important, that the economic damage it causes is still something capitalists greatly fear.

For those convinced of revamping anarcho-syndicalism or for those already convinced but looking for an avenue I’ve already listed two organizations. The Industrial Workers of the World is more neutral-syndicalist while still retaining the ghost of anarchism. It also varies from branch to branch and member to member but they are well established and are willing to organize any and all workers. The Workers Solidarity Alliance is the specific anarcho-syndicalist organization that isn’t a union and more of an activist network for organizing new types of unions. Both these organizations are good places to start to organize your workplace. What I’ve listed here is an incomplete thought of our possibilities as workers and it will require serious organizing to flourish fully. We have to collectively design our new strategy in order to develop our power.

To end with, a recent poll has been going around, showing that 68% of people between the ages of 18 and 29 view unions favorably. No poll yet exists for abolitionism or anarchism but would the numbers reflect the same? I don’t bring this up to play the numbers game but more to say that the next generation, my generation, are excited about unions and labor organizing because for us it represents a direct attack on capital. It symbolizes to many I’ve spoken to workers power at it’s most strongest. If there isn’t an anarchist or abolitionist response then “we” run the risk of being picked up by more authoritarian or reformist organizations that already provide an avenue. Because the labor wave is coming, it just depends on how ready “we” are for it.

There are 41 Comments

they can't be absent. they must be present. so it's compulsory. and you're appealing to anarchists...to do workerism. and this was your best try?

"I am not demanding that everyone join a union more so I am asking fellow anarchists and abolitionists to start organizing the one place we’ve largely been absent from: the workplace."

so you're asking anarchists to: 1. get a job. then, 2. do extra work? for what?

you sure didn't think this through. you're better off quitting your fast food job and finding some other means of subsistence than holding on until the half a dozen of employable anarchists join fast food workers unions in waves.

"half a dozen employable anarchists", yeah, they might be a bit late lol

The point in all this shouldn't be to try to bring anachro-swindicalism back from the dead, leafletting the coal-stokers and gas lamp lighters at the front gates of the local zeppelin factories, but to try to catalyze a nationwide working-class propelled crisis at the expense of the owners and rulers of an ever-more fragile and potentially extremely unstable United States.

The potential catastrophic instability of this malignant social order calls to mind a line of John Zerzan at the end of one of his essays: "Everything in the present and past is waiting, waiting to detonate."

that's a good line!

I also don't have any interest in performing a cheesy seance on classic leftism, trying to raise up that zombie horse... it's dead! stop beating the horse! you're just defiling a corpse, it's a cringey thing to watch.

as if the economic conditions of post WW2 are something we could realistically return to? as if the global apartheid that cut a greasy deal with a select few of the workers in the developed world is a desirable goal?

it was always just a bribe and they only offered the bribe because they imagined the commie barbarians were at the gates.

anyway, of course workers should ferociously advocate for themselves. it's equally important to acknowledge that most of them won't and any sense of how or why has been very deliberately ripped out of their minds. anarchists are few with few resources. get real, don quixote ... is this mostly what IGD is going to sound like post Trump? face palms all around ...

Step one: Read Camatte

Step two: Understand Camatte

Step three: Rethink your stuff.

The authorities will come down too hard if all workers became militant. The bosses will declare a state of emergency etc, so the best path is to follow a Compatible Alternative Insurgency, or CAI methodology to slowly phase out wage slavery and replace it with a mutual employer/workerist model. Thankyou.

Labor Militancy is played and it mostly leads to puritanical positionality and orientation. How 'bout try something new related to the multitude of humanity that essentially have to put up with forced and impersonal learning for 12 years(12 years a slave). That to me would be a more post-left 21st century target of radical effection. The key target age group would of course be the 11-17 age cohort. Those are the people you want suspending the education process.

Learning stoppage is more novel, untried and radical then labor stoppage at this point especially given how modern education is evolving as part of a technocratic cybernetic integrated totality.

Yes, my CAI methodology is also applied to not only the working place but the learning place also. The compatibility element is achieved by a staunch rejection of carriculum and replacing it with the autonomous creative invention of training zones, free food gardens and hens, martial arts, solar and wind energy conversion and maternity and triage skills.

There has never been a rev which succeeded in transforming the values of its populations deeply enough for the radical alternative to succeed, and this is why a transitional course was not perfected and carried out to its terminal stage, there have always been the Thermidorian events which are counter-activist recuperations and revenge for the chaos that revs only seem to succeed at creating.
Only the youth are capable of bolstering the transitional momentum because they are clean slates and adventurous minded enough to imagine a different world. This is why learning youth are the most efficient agents through which permanent change can occur.

The Spanish '37 Rev worked comrade, for a while, until Nazi interference supplied armaments to defeat it!

"The Spanish '37 Rev worked comrade, for a while, until Nazi interference supplied armaments to defeat it!"

This has got to be the most simpleminded explanation of what happened in Spain

I wouldn't mind dude, or bro, or the edgy brah, even milquetoast antifa, but don't ever, and I mean EVER call me comrade!

My first thought was "I ain't reading all that." Made the mistake of scrolling through to this gem "If the workplace. has become unwillingly central to our lives then organizing the workplace must in some way be central to our praxis. " (sic) but not sick. How about walking away from the thing you hate rather than spending more time organizing it & making it so-called better?

IF the workplace.


This piece isn't wrong about work being an interesting little powder keg for our society, always and particularly now. Or about the possibility of reformists taking control of present waves of on the job disobedience. Too bad their only advice was to not leave your job and join organizations that haven't delivered much in a century.

For real though I want more anarchist writing about what to do at work if you hate it but are stuck in it, some thing to say beyond "don't do it" and "join a union". Definitely the realm I've seen more rebellion in than any, though never in the name of becoming a workers co-op or whatever.

honestly, most temp jobs are too short term and high turnover to organize the workplace. lots of companies have anti union measures. why not organize outside the workplace? neighborhood councils? people change residence less frequently than jobs maybe

One of the failures of still-outdated ancom narratives like the one expressed above is the super-retro notion that the "workplace" is just the place where you go to work, 9 to 5. That's being completely oblivious of the fact that work is everywhere. What do you do after a day at the job? Go to restaurant... Go to venues with cover charges... Feed a couple relationship...Take care of your kids... Do all kinds of stupid shit with friends... Spend hours on social media... And of course buy crap from the stores... DO some volunteering for the Community... Do cleaning... Exercise at the gym...

All this shit is basically an extension of work to society, where anyways your literal job is just a ramification of the society as factory anyways. Even if you don't have a job you're found to be often working anyways. You're doing social, cultural, political work that collaborates with the social relationship, that makes society function.

So the social machine, or shall I say the Leviathan, is everywhere and by collaborating with the dominant order you are among its workforce.

So like I said... you guise must read Camatte. ;)

Fuck Camatte and fuck your imaginary alternative that is not at all grounded in the present you find yourself existing in. Tell us how you've completely disconnected from collaborating with the dominant order on this here internet, brow. You have no greater answers. Admit you're miserable and get over yourself.

"Lookee here... Anticiv anarchos using the INTERNET that was invented by the STATE, uh uh uh! So we're better off getting MORE enslaved to wage slavery to we can one day fulfill the completely realistic ancom dream of self-managing Silicon Valley as well as Facebook and Tesla!"

Lookie here, "we can't even figure out these small places of few people or our own miserable lives but we totally have answers for all people on a mass scale! We are so smart and have it all figured out please tip us on cash app!"

> pretending that "miserable lives" are not coming at a mass-scale in the first place

> pretending that mass-scale society is at the roots of misery in the first place

> believing I SHOULD be having mass-scale solutions, coz that's what anarchists are about, riiite?

Say, why don't you support your Democrat candidate!? lol Politicians like it when you put so much massive weight on their shoulders.

Dear anon 09:30,
Anon 08:57 was making fun of you. It's called sarcasm. I'm sorry these things go over your head. It's also why lumpy's spicy replies confuse you. It's not lumpy saying what you think he's saying, it's just you not 'getting it.'
A lot of these misunderstandings has to do with environmental factors doing harm to developing brains but much of it has to do with just being an unlucky dumb-dumb.

> spends all day everyday trolling anarchist website and thinks anarchists support the democratic party.

is fox news down or something? what a fucking idiot.

The support of many US anarcho-liberals for the DSA or the Democrats is well-documented, brah.

when you DO stuff, it's work and therefore society maaan

yeah? kind of? depends why you're making that observation?
is it you or camatte who's particularly proud of this shining jewel of insight?

when exactly am I not "collaborating with leviathan"? always thought hobbes was more talking about like, military organizations...

and are you assuming that the system is avoidable? you seem to be saying we can escape it. under what circumstances?
different anon
(though all anons are the same anon)

look, I read up on camatte's trajectory and I think I get what anon was saying now? if anything, I had to untangle it from all the more m@instream, recent anti-civ theory that I was exposed to, considered completely obvious to most of the anarchists i've known.

like, i've known a relatively large amount of anarchists trying to "pull a camatte" out in the sticks, most of my life. some have enjoyed modest success with it, others went batshit crazy in the isolation, plus there's the "privilege" conversation, not to mention the colonization one. most of those people articulated something like how time goes by out on the edges of the leviathan's reach and the war sometimes comes to find you, or at least you keep hearing about other battlefields and you're inevitably drawn back in or your conscientious objector status kind of eats at you a little bit. maybe your dormant strugglitis tends to flare up like an old case of herpes from time to time?

anyway, there's a classic position about having accessible anarchist ways of life in the urban and rural settings, allowing people to indulge their strugglismo herpes or lean towards camatte's "inversion" as their individual anarchist temperment changes over time. the highest ideal for me would be having that option, to seek battle or quiet and rest as was needed or desired. it's not easy and often completely impossible when constrained by abject poverty but that's life under capitalism, yeah?

"most of those people articulated something like how time goes by out on the edges of the leviathan's reach and the war sometimes comes to find you, or at least you keep hearing about other battlefields,,,,,,"
What have you been smoking?! Leviathan is omnipresent, it is in the electricity grid, its in the mall, its in the heads of a billion people.

I understand what you're saying, its like people who are incapable of realizing individual sovereignty are forever under the control of the dominant authority and never question its construction and relationship to the collective mindset, or, Leviathan, the mental state of submission to huge organizational structures.

^this might be saying more about you and less about what electrical infrastructure actually is?

The "nobody put shit in your pants, you shit them yourself" reply was fucking hilarious and some boring moderator removed it to protect a stupid troll.


dear patient, longsuffering mods, pls allow us to keep @news crass af


your troll fanbase

as anyone paying attention can figure out.

the problem in this case was that it was name-calling and nothing else. insults must be substantive or at least combined with something of substance, at least for this moderator.


thecollective member .4

This is problematic. As anarchists you might want to reconsider your position on what you deem substantive.

Name calling is a valid anarchist tactic to elicit a desired response when no other forms of dealing with a situation are present. If a reactionary troll is shitting the proverbial bed all over this website then the only thing a non-moderator can do to shut them up is often name calling. Yet we are instead left to wait for you to log onto the website and save us if you deem the troll's shitty comments also without substance. If you gave everyone the power to moderate comments then this would be a different form of dealing with situations much like anarchy offers in meat space. However, your hierarchy leave us to name calling.


substantive. can be on any topic or person you choose.


It's kinda like... where've you been the past few years? The global capitalists are pushing for always more robotization of the industry. Putting aside all the outsourcing that happened the last few decades... how could anarchists contribute to labor movements that got such deteriorating leverage?

Such movement as Antiwork is more connected with the current realities, as it opens the gate for a questioning of how to take back our lives in a context where work, anyways, is taken away from us. But if you keep your head stuck in workerism, in the imperative of going to work in order to take part in the labor militancy, well you might be a bit off the rails...

Like, work in the first place has always been a way to hold people hostage of society's mainstream means of subsistence. If you keep pushing for "work, work, work", all you're doing ain't just to discourage efforts at building a life outside of its enclosures, but also doing the fascist's job of pushing work as the only way for a life.

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