Sunday, January 06, 2008

The developments at the Nordhausen, Germany bicycle factory where, last year, workers occupied the premises and began bicycle production under their own self-management gained huge attention from libertarian activists across the world. This factory became something of a cause-celebre as the word went out and orders poured in for the workers' product from across Europe and the world. Anarcho-syndicalists did themselves proud in publicizing this struggle and laying the groundwork for the system of orders and distribution.
Molly also reported on this, as did thousands of other bloggers across the world. But why the silence now ? For the life of me I cannot find any sources other than the original Strike-Bike site that tell how it all turned out. Sadly more with a whimper than a bang. On the 1st of November last year the bankruptcy trustee Wutzke moved in to the factory and changed the locks. A "rescue company" began a gradual process of trying to rebuild the company on November 5th. Be aware that these legal actions were not the consequence of what the workers at the factory did but rather a response to the massive debt built up by previous management. The workers continued production under their own management and proved that the factory was viable and profitable.
The actions of the workers in accepting this outcome are fully understandable. While the anarchosyndicalists rose to the occasion and proved that they could set up a marketing system for the products of self-managed factories they obviously couldn't swing the political muscle that the workers would have needed to actually challenge the decisions of the German trustees and the legal system behind them. That sort of muscle requires much longer organizing efforts and a broadening of the syndicalist base. At the present time only Spain provides an example of where such a defense would be even vaguely feasible. The CGT of Spain has earned a sustained "influence" over perhaps 5% of the population. That may not seem like a large number, but it is number from which public campaigns can actually be launched to gain support around a specific issue. It would make such defense possible. In its absence no number of riots and so-called "direct action" on the part of rootless anarchists could provide any real power. The Strike-Bike people made a reasonable choice.
Does this mean that we have to wait like the dogmatists of "only the revolution will solve all the problems" ? I say no. This apocalyptic response is borrowed from the same tradition in many religions. It is in the end a recipe for futility and uselessness. During the development of Spanish anarchism the FAI often defended their futile tactics of hopeless insurrections by calling them "revolutionary gymnastics" ie training exercises. As anyone familiar with this blog will know I am not a "revolutionist". But I see no reason not to apply a similar term to what has happened in this instance. What is sad is that the end of this struggle was not reported to 1/10,000th the degree that its inception was. There is much to be learned here. "Training" is only of any use if you actually have a memory. Molly says that the capacity of the international syndicalist movement (and its worldwide supporters) in this case should be recognized, and that this capacity should be graven in stone in their minds as to what is possible. I also say that there will be other such instances, and we should do our best to encourage them. But we should also take note of the difficulties ahead to such instances where workers are forced to try and take over a workplace that has been run into the ground by half-assed management.
Far too much of present day anarchism consists of hopping blindly from issue to issue without learning much of any use when such issues eventually dissipate as they will always do. There are some, of course, who think that this situation is just the cat's pajamas, and they do their best to perpetuate such a state of affairs. But others who see anarchism not as existential justification nor as a "business opportunity", who see it as a real possible alternative for ordinary people should not fall into this trap. When such situations come and go questions such as "what was done right", "why did we fail in the end", "what did we do wrong" and "what more could we do in similar situations" should always be asked. First...recognize that something is over, and then question from there. Simply pulling something out of the black hole of old internet postings may be a necessary first step.
Molly is of the opinion that such workers' takeovers are not inevitably doomed, though the likelihood of their success will vary from case to case. What factors would influence whether such things would work or not ? Molly is also of the opinion that proving that such takeovers could work in the situations that they are likely to occur in today (unfortunately usually due to mismanagement by previous owners) is an absolute necessity for the next stage- takeovers in situations where financial crisis is not part of the local weather. Not that such takeovers shouldn't be contemplated even before there were other examples of success in crisis situations. The power of pension funds is an untapped power for such a project. What has to be done is to convince people that such a use is reasonable. So give it some thought.

1 comment:

Larry Gambone said...

Very good points. I too would like to know more about the issue and what became of it. We will have to endure many "training cessions."