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Interview with Workers Solidarity Network

An interview of Nicolas of the Workers Solidarity Network with Patrick from Firebrand and the Portland local Northwest Anarchist Federation

Patrick: What is the goal of the Workers Solidarity Network?

Nicolas: We try to promote solidarity within the labour movement. This is a broad statement but it is applied in different forms like strike solidarity, direct action case work and helping with union drives. We want to prove to ourselves and workers in general that it’s possible to fight the bosses with or without an established union. Fundamentally, what’s needed is to make a list of demands and grievances and act upon them collectively. This can be done in a traditional union framework or in non-conventional frameworks that some struggles require.

We want to popularise what we call “un syndicalisme de combat”, which translates to solidarity unionism or class-struggle unionism in English. The basis of “le syndicalisme de combat” for us to establish tangible rank n’ file power before entering into a conflict with the bosses. It is no use to strike when the struggle is not led by the rank n’ file, when it is completely controlled by union leadership. What’s needed is active participation by all workers and an understanding that true labour power comes from there and not from the negotiations table.

We don’t pretend to be more important then we are. And we don’t want to take the place of existing unions. Usually what we propose is double membership, both within an established and legal union and within the Workers Solidarity Network. We believe trade unions and the current the labour movement can be radicalized from within, so we don’t see the need to establish a more leftist/syndicalist union that would out seed the business and reformist unions. However, we do think it is important for rebel workers and the non-unionized to have a specific point of convergence in the movement, that ‘s why we formed the Workers Solidarity Network!

Patrick: How are you organized?

Nicolas: Membership is very loose. All you have to do is agree with our platform, respect our constitution, pay 10$ in annual dues and come out to actions once in a while. Obviously some members attend meetings more frequently and take up more coordinating tasks, but this is not integrated into our formal structure. The only positions we have in the network our treasurer (who also keeps track of membership) and external coordinator. Both of these positions are unpaid. As we grow, it’s looking as if more positions and/or committees will be created, such as a legal committee and a agit/prop committee, for example.

We hold general assemblies once a month. Every member has an equal say in these meetings. Tasks are mandated and these mandates are immediately revocable if we feel the work isn’t being done in a proper fashion. It’s pretty much basic direct democracy, I guess.
Patrick: What type of actions do you take part in?

Nicolas: One of the things we do is strike solidarity. When strikes and lockouts happen, we go out to the picket lines and support the workers as an organized group. It’s surprising how much this basic practice is lacking in the labour movement. Usually when strikers see us their reaction ranges from being pleasantly surprised to all out astonishment.

Another thing we do is defend our members interests and rights in their workplaces. In these moments we truly act as a union. One action that kick-started the network was a mass visit to a boss who hadn’t paid the training hours of one of our members. 40 people visited him at his pizzeria at supper time on a Friday night demanding the unpaid wages. It took about 10 seconds to get the money! What a great feeling of satisfaction that provided…especially since this worker is an undocumented immigrant who didn’t trust legal and official processes to settle his grievance, we were his only recourse.

Finally, we help with union drives. Well, we are currently taking part in our first union drive, to be more precise. Usually, pro-union workers get identified very fast by management during union drives, that leads to isolation and harassment. We are thinking we can help out with scouting at the workplace and with house visits. This will be done in collaboration with an established and legal union.

Patrick: Why is an organization like the Workers Solidarity Network needed?

Nicolas: I think I’ve brushed this before, but again, mainly to radicalize the labour movement and defend the interests and rights of non-unionized workers.

Patrick: What suggestions do you have for workers who want to start a similar organization?

Nicolas: Be patient. The Workers Solidarity Network came out of a long process of supporting strikes and discussions on how unions can become more democratic and combative and how, we as working people, can actually start winning some fights against the bosses after a few decades of defeats. At the same, set specific goals. When we first founded the network in February 2005 (before that discussions were had amongst smaller groups of labour activists), we set the goals of adopting a platform and a constitution, producing a pocket-sized pamphlet on basic rights, studying the labour code and publicly launching the network on Mayday. All of these goals were achieved. Now we are focussing on specific campaigns. Throughout the summer we supported the strike at the Omni Hotel in Montreal, that ended in a victory for the workers against a boss who’s the 4th richest man in Texas and a personal friend of George W. Bush. As I said, we are helping with a union drive. In late October 2005, we will hold our first Orientation Conference. We have been invited by a leftist student union to give talks in schools about basic rights.

Anything is possible if you organize right and you are committed to what you are doing. Thank you for the interview. Good luck with Firebrand and your activities in Portland!

"A fighting union!"
Workers Solidarity Network
rst.wsn@gmail.com, 514-859-9092