An Introduction to Solidarity Networks Adapted from SeaSol’s ‘Why you should start a solidarity network’

When I first became interested in radical politics, there weren’t many groups for me to get involved with. All of the collectives I joined seemed to form, fall apart, and reform always the same people reshuffling into new groups, disbanding, and starting over again. If they took part in any discernible action at all, it was normally because some other group had organised it.

There is, however, a way to get around these issues: with perseverance and a little bit of elbow grease, you can start your own solidarity network. Although by no means does this model offer the only solutions to these common problems, the solidarity network model, nonetheless, does offer some practical insights and examples of how we can:

1. Win fights against oppressive institutions, bosses and landlords

2. Attract new workers to our organizations, many of whom will have never even heard of anarcho-syndicalist tactics before,

3. Empower ourselves and our fellow workers and community members, and

4. Establish a stable and positive presence in our community, off of which we may continue to grow in new directions and imagine better horizons. This is key in that the content of what we label a ‘solidarity network’, unlike many other forms of organizing, has the potential to build counter-power.

Winning the fight

Although it is imperative to defend past concessions
and gains (courts etc) fighting on this terrain doesn’t
have any prefigurative or transformative content. It’s
alienating, boring, slow, expensive and requires us to
become specialists able to provide representation
and advice to lay workers. Using direct action allows
us to get new people involved, ideally including
mates of the person in dispute etc, and give people
(including ourselves) a sense of the collective power
we have when we take direct action together.

If we are dedicated to transformation new forms of organising have to start somewhere. If you go through the courts, then the law defines the limit of what you can achieve. You’re literally fighting for “a fair day’s wages for a fair day’s work” on terms defined by the bosses. The character of your activity is very conservative.

If you use direct action based on workers’ solidarity, then the limit of what you can achieve is defined by the balance of class forces. You’re fighting on your own terms, on the basis of “an injury to one is an injury to all”. The character of your activity is prefigurative and potentially revolutionary

For those of us who have poured our hearts into a lot of “symbolic” anarchist projects- a lot of anti-police brutality work, anti-war organizing, anti-G8 campaigns, and so onfor those of us who have spent time around these campaigns, we have often felt extremely demoralized. We have felt this way because despite all the sacrifice, we never won anything. The campaigns never seemed to end after the enemy had conceded something; instead they always seemed to stop when people just became exhausted. Because of this, the SeaSol model stresses that organizers should have both a good understanding of how to take on bosses and landlords (what tactics work, what don’t), and also on how realistic winning a potential new campaign could be.

We like to show this relationship–between our strength
and our demands– in our “Winability” graph:

In the graph we can see that as our demands on a boss
become greater, it becomes necessary for us to find
more leverage. So, the smaller the demand, the less
leverage we need. The bigger the demand… you get the
idea. There needs to be a staged escalation giving them
an opportunity to nip pickets in the bud, and giving us the opportunity to win with minimal commitment of resources.

After all– we’re not against individual landlords or bosses because they are bad people per se–they occupy a class position in society which reinforces and perpetuates dehumanising social relationships for all of us. You might think this sounds obvious, and to those familiar with anarcho-syndicalist ideas it probably is. This graph is just a nerdy way of teaching people a concept Anarchists have always deeply appreciated– direct action.

Part of what makes Solidarity Networks so effective is that we base our actions on our actual strength. If, for example, it was going to take us “5 units” of pressure to win a demand from a boss, but we could only reliably keep up “3 units,” we would decline to take on that fight.Of course, there is no way to quantify any of this, but you understand the concept.

The idea, in a nutshell, is to make sure that we aren’t ever spending time on fightswe are not yet strong enough to win. By choosing fights carefully, we can focus our energy somewhere we can have a bigger impact. As the base for self-organisation and direct action grows, so does our ability to imagine greater struggles and alternative futures.

Once the fight is underway, SeaSol uses two basic principals to plan the campaign: escalation and sustainability. First, we brainstorm what tactics might be effective in the campaign, and we rate them from least to most powerful. We do this because we want to escalate as the fight goes on. “Its not the memory of what we did to them yesterday that will make the bosses give in,” explains a SeaSol organizer, “but the fear of what we will do to them tomorrow.”

The process of mapping out a fight in this way is helpful not only because it allows us see just how much support we will have to mobilize- its helpful also because it allows us to see if our initial plans are sustainable.

One of the reasons SeaSol has had more sustained growth than any other Anarchist organization in the Northwest over the last two years is that it offers something practical and concrete to people: mutual support, community, and a real, practical action. What’s more, the retention of new members has also been helped along by our momentum: there is always enough work to go around. No matter how involved someone wants to get initially, we can always find space for them to come lend a hand. When we attract new people through our ongoing fights and new campaigns, we are increasing our capacity, which means we can take on more fights, thus attracting yet more people .

“Empowerment” is a term bandied about a lot in radical circles.

“We need to empower them and empower them…” It can, at times, be used so often it becomes meaningless.

Even if the people involved in SeaSol are not ready to become full on organizers, the experience of taking on a boss and winning can still be a very radicalizing experience. It increases not just our power, but our confidence in ourselves.

Beyond propaganda, Seeing direct action/class struggle in action is in my opinion more convincing than the best written article or pamphlet read in a vacuum. That is to say it’s in the context of class struggles that revolutionary ideas appear as ‘common sense’ (solidarity, self-organisation, class conflict, a world without agencies, bosses etc would be better…) as opposed to abstractions.

The campaigns we conduct concretely show us all the real class divisions rife in our society, with workers on one side, and the bosses, landlords, cops and courts on the other. Arguably, the fights we conduct are able to reach many people in a way that our extensive libraries cannot.

In the end, the Solidarity Network model is just a beginning to something we all hope will be something much broader, and more encompassing. With a larger network- and the community of struggle it builds– new possibilities become apparent to us. People have pitched ideas about the Seattle Solidarity Network taking on fights around police brutality, around violence against the LGBTQ community,or even around a case of abuse at a local high school. These are all legitimate fights we may well be capable of dealing with. The point is, this model offers the chance to build a foundation for greater things down the line.