Building local campaigns


We live in a world where we are encouraged to be passive. We can either accept things as they are or, at best, we can ask someone else to do things for us. That someone can be a politician, a 'community leader', or even a full-time union official. The 'experts' will look after the important stuff and we can stay at home feeling dependent and powerless. Just as there are bosses and workers, there are also leaders and led; and we are supposed to accept it as somehow natural.

That's the theory. But sometimes there comes a point where many of us decide we are tired of sitting on the sidelines. We would like a say in the things that effect us. A fairly recent example was the campaign that forced the government to abolish water charges.

At the beginning most people believed the politicians when they said "vote for us and we'll abolish them". But after Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Labour and DL all did the exact opposite as soon as they got our votes, a lot of people began to see the need to start taking matters into their own hands.

This was a big step. There was no super leader or ready made big organisation to sort things out for us. It started with a handful of anarchists and socialists writing a leaflet and putting it in the doors on their estates and calling local meetings. In some areas up to eighty turned up for the first meeting, in others nobody at all showed up. But from tiny acorns do mighty oak trees grow, and from a handful of people with a good idea grew a non- payment movement involving tens of thousands.

So, we have no doubt that local organising in a militant fashion is not only desirable but is also very possible. In a less dramatic way, it happens year in and year out all over the country. We don't always hear about it, it's not exactly the sort of thing that media bosses bosses like Tony O'Reilly want to put on page 1.

How much have we read in the Times, Examiner, Star, Newsletter or Indo about the felling of the E-Sat masts located near schools by parents worried about the effects of electromagnetic radiation?

What campaigns like these show is that most people want a direct say in decisions that are going to effect them, and - when the 'proper channels' fail them - are willing to get together with others and fight for their interests.

Nobody in their right mind wants to spend the rest of their life fighting a succession of single issue struggles, and that is where revolutionary organisations come in. The problems we face are down to a system that puts the interests of the rich and their profits way ahead of the interests of ordinary people; and divides us into rulers and ruled.

Capitalism is a big, worldwide system. We need to organise on a big scale too. Clearly the more of us who get together, the more we can achieve. However organisation has to be more than likeminded people coming together. We also need a strategy, a way to link up all the different progressive struggles into a common battle to get rid of the present set-up and to replace it with socialism, with real democracy, with control over our lives and futures.

One local struggle, no matter how determined or daring, won't overthrow the system. On the other hand, a network of struggles, supporting and encouraging each other, can spread and grow to be capable of just that. It is the role of an anarchist organisation to bring all the facets of opposition together.

But this on its own is not enough, nor is it enough to simply explain the anarchist alternative. We also have to build up confidence among our friends, neighbours and workmates in their own ability to start fighting for themselves, to start taking back control over their destinies.

That means combating the ideas and practices that reinforce passivity and dependence. We do this by getting people involved as participants rather than mere spectators in their own struggles. Today it can mean small but concrete things like at work arguing for having deputy shop stewards so that the skills are spread, for regular elections so that we don't come to rely on the one 'expert', and lunchtime meetings to mandate our stewards.

In local struggles we don't do things for people, we do it with them. Share the skills and knowledge. When we win a victory everyone who was involved should feel it is their victory. They should feel strong and confident, capable of taking on a bigger opponent the next time.

Without that sort of confidence we will never break down the division between rulers and ruled, and while we may be able to change the faces of those who boss us around, we won;t be able to stop there being bosses. Most of us will only take risks, stand up and fight if we believe there is a good chance of succeeding. This sort of self confidence doesn't grow on trees, it grows out of winning. Not out of watching someone winning for us, but out of knowing we played our part in getting that victory.

Alan MacSimóin

This article is from Workers Solidarity No 54 published in June 1998