WILLIAMS, Dana. Anarchists and Labor Unions: Applying New Social Movement Theory to the Characteristics of Contemporary Anarchists. -1-

University of Akron

African-Americans, USAunionismBOOKCHIN, Murray (14 janvier 1921 – 30 juillet 2006) Catholic Workers MovementAFL (American Federation of Labor)social struggles (social movement)ZERZAN, John (1943-....). Anarchiste américain. Philosophe primitiviste et auteurSociety. Working ClassWILLIAMS, DanaNorth America (generalities)Act-Up! Anti-Racist ActionAnimal Liberation Front Critical Mass Earth First! Earth Liberation Front Food not Bombs Reclaim the Streets CrimethInc Society. New Social Movement Theory


Has the North American anarchist movement changed over time? As a historically class-oriented movement, are anarchists today less likely to join unions, when considering their ideology, class, work-focus, and age? This paper focuses on these questions and asks in what ways these questions apply to a prominent social movement theory.
Anarchists, who ascribe to a philosophy that rejects authority and domination, are active in various left-wing movements throughout North America and the world. Yet, the anarchist movement has not been greatly studied, or placed within current social movement theory. Further quantitative research as to the constitution of the anarchist movement, its beliefs, and current political activities, has been non-existent.
Contemporary social movement theory suggests that the middle-class is the economic class most directly engaged in social and political change activism (Cohen 1985). Further, it is claimed that there is a lack of anarchist participation in unions and labor-oriented campaigns, for reasons of differing culture, backgrounds, organizations, and tactics (Sheppard 2002). If anarchism is a new social movement, then an emphasis upon class and labor within traditional social movements (which tend to be working class) should not be present. In order to explore the above assumptions, the responses to a user survey of a prominent anarchist website were analyzed.


Anarchism Anarchism as a social and political philosophy has formally been around since the mid-19th century, with ideas first expressed by philosophers William Godwin and Joseph-Pierre Proudhon. It is seen as a particular tendency within classical liberalism that seeks the liberation of people from authority and domination (Chomsky 1973). Anarchism advocates the removal of all unnecessary authoritarian and hierarchical social institutions (such as capitalism and the centralized nation-state), to be replaced by cooperative, horizontal, and self-empowered relationships (Ward 1996). Although historically lumped together with communism in terms of highly valuing equality, anarchism rejects state power (Chirot 1986). As such, anarchists and communists have often been at odds with one another.
Anarchists advocate direct action, as opposed to indirect action (such as through elections) to accomplish the necessary functions of society (de Cleyre 1912). Acting directly empowers people individually and collectively—to both not rely on authority figures and also not to self-restrict oneself to the wishes of those figures, but rather the need of a given community. In the absence of authority figures, anarchists rely upon voluntary association with those they choose in order to coordinate their participation in society (Anarchy FAQ 2004, Ward 1996). Anarchists offer mutual aid and solidarity to those who require assistance and assume that this will reciprocate to them if the need arises. Historically, anarchists believe that self-determination is best achieved at smaller scales, and thus often act within small organizations, one being the “affinity group”. In these anarchist organizations decisions are made by a consensus process or by direct democracy. More complex forms of organizations are created for broader functions and needs, such as collectives, coalitions, federations, and spokes-councils (Graeber 2002, Polletta 2001). The anarchist vision is one of a decentralized world, composed of interlocking networks and federations.
The modern-day anarchist movement is a multi-cause movement that works towards these ends and seeks to interject its radical ideas into other social movements. Anarchists have been active in the feminist, civil rights, anti-corporate globalization, environmental, and peace/anti-war movements. Renewed focus upon anarchism as a radical movement has resurged after the fall of the Soviet Union as a state-based alternative to capitalism (Day 2003). Increasingly wide-spread use of the Internet has also increased access to anarchist ideas and information, and allowed anarchists to communicate with each other—ironically within a highly anarchistic medium.
Shantz (2003) argues that resistance movements (and anarchism in particular) that want “no part of the world order, new or otherwise” (p. 90) have been neglected by social movement literature. He argues that most social movement theory studies movements trying to influence or become part of the existing system as opposed to replacing the entire order. This shortcoming is important because of heightened participation by anarchists in recent years in both North America and throughout the world, and increased media coverage (Elliott 1999, Kahn 2000) following the anti-World Trade Organization demonstrations in Seattle during 1999 that anarchists had a large role in planning. As such, anarchism as both a political tendency and as a movement deserves more attention by sociologists and social movement researchers. This paper attempts to begin addressing this deficit in research.
New Social Movements North American anarchist organizations, groups that espouse an anarchist philosophy, may arguably be best understood by Fitzgerald and Rodgers’ (2000) model of radical social movement organizations (RSMOs). Radical organizations differ from moderate social movement organizations in terms of organizational structure, ideology, tactics, communication, and assessment of success. RSMOs are thus nonhierarchical, participatory, egalitarian, and radical, emphasize structural change, and use nonviolent action and innovative tactics. According to this model, RSMOs are also ignored and misrepresented by the mainstream media, utilize alternative media, use limited resources, and are subject to intense opposition and surveillance. This model modifies the framework set by resource mobilization theory (McCarthy and Zald 1977) by arguing that bureaucratization and institutionalization of social movements is not always necessary or inevitable.
However, for this study, I will use the more widely-known new social movements (NSM) theory, since it offers the best vantage point to challenge the oft-claimed notion that the anarchist movement is of the middle-class or that it is not active in class-related issues. It also speaks more directly to the individual characteristics of movement participants rather than the organizational structures they utilize.
NSM theory asserts that in this era of post-industrialism, modern social movements differ from earlier movements, and focus upon less-class-oriented issues such as racial equality, feminism, peace, the environment, and localist issues. In North America, non-class-oriented franchise anarchistic organizations that fall into these categories include ACT-UP, Anti-Racist Action, Animal Liberation Front, Critical Mass, Earth First!, Earth Liberation Front, Food Not Bombs, and Reclaim the Streets. As such, Cohen (1985) argues that “Unlike the Old Left, actors involved in contemporary movements do not view themselves in terms of a socioeconomic class” (p. 667).
Offe (1985) states that NSMs differ from traditional social movements by focusing on values of autonomy and identity, organizing with decentralization, self-government, and self-help in mind, and tend to be ad hoc, egalitarian, and non-hierarchical—incidentally strong anarchist values. Because problems related to authority and domination may be found within multiple domains, anarchists are unique in their relation to NSMs. There is considerable cross-movement participation within all the aforementioned movements by anarchists and their organizations (Epstein 1991, Graeber 2002, Shantz 2003). This varying participation agrees with McCarthy and Zald’s (1977) concept of overlapping social movement “industries”, composed of individual social movement organizations.
Sheppard (2002) claims, albeit without quantitative analysis, that anarchists are less likely to organize and belong to unions than in the past, and that they instead choose to find other work if their current job is disagreeable. Sheppard hypothesizes this is because of the aforementioned class collusion of modern unions, macho stereotypes of unions, and the punk subculture of rejection that contemporary anarchism draws heavily from. He opines that, “Young anarchists often correctly see the organized labor movement as not radical at all, but as a backwards force embodying the worst kinds of provincialism and political maneuvering” (para. 6). Sheppard’s generalizations appear to support classifying anarchism within the NSM framework. Cohen (1985) supports this: “Instead of forming unions or political parties… [NSMs] focus on grass-roots politics and create horizontal, directly democratic associations that are loosely federated on national levels” (p. 667). Albert (2002) also argues that class has disappeared from left-wing activism, which he attributes to an ill-informed understanding of class stratification from Marxists and the inability of activists to merge a class analysis with feminist and anti-racist analysis.
Bagguley (1992) is critical of the NSM theory, because the above movements and organizational traits existed before the 1960s and post-industrialism, thus making a clear delineation difficult. Pichardo (1997) also criticizes NSM for a number of reasons. He points out that NSM theory focuses solely on left-wing movements, to the neglect of right-wing and reactionary movements. NSM ideas lack solid empirical evidence and as such tend to be more theoretical. Finally, Pichardo (1997) claims that NSM theory is less a brand new theory than just an addition to social movement theory.
Other Relevant Literature Labor unions are organizations formed at a workplace or in a particular occupation for the purpose of providing leverage in negotiations with employers over different aspects of employment, including pay, benefits, and working conditions. The largest union in the United States is the AFL-CIO, a federation of many individual trade unions. Unions have historically been difficult for workers to organize and sustain because of harassment by employers, ranging from repression of union-related speech at work to firings of union organizers to outright repression by police forces (Brecher 1997). Robinson (1988) also notes declining organizing efforts of unions themselves and the corporate use of monetary rewards to compete with unions as other reasons for the recent decline in union membership.
The lack of anarchist participation in unions and the labor movement could be symptomatic of larger trends, such as the move towards a more service-based economy and the widespread creation of “McJobs” (Klein 1999, Schlosser 2002). Relatedly, there has been a steady decline in union membership in the US during the last two decades (Bureau of Labor Statistics 2004). In response, Sheppard and others (Chomsky 1973, Dolgoff 1977) advocate a direct engagement with the labor movement, potentially along the lines of anarcho-syndicalism and radical trade unions (like the Industrial Workers of the World, or IWW), or participation in wholly-owned worker cooperatives (as detailed in Rothschild-Whitt 1979).
The anarchist movement is far more diverse than it was a century ago, when its primary focus was economic. It has ideologically branched out into other issues not widely part of social movements at the time. This new diversity can be seen in how anarchists sometimes identify with particular strains or tendencies, often noted in the prefix or suffix applied to their ideology. People who call themselves social anarchists focus on general social injustices and hierarchy. Anarcha-feminists deal with gender-related issues, such as reproductive choice, domestic violence, and forms of patriarchic domination. Eco-anarchists emphasize a tandem focus upon environmental defense (of places such as old-growth forests), and protest of corporate and government destruction of the environment. Anarcho-communists emphasize egalitarian, communist values such as producer and consumer cooperatives and collective ownership. Finally, anarcho-syndicalists advocate worker control over the means of production at the workplace, often practiced in the form of radical unionism.
It may be assumed that if one bothers to claim a specific orientation as those mentioned above, that such a decision reflects the tendency towards certain actions. For example, those with an anarcho-syndicalist focus may be more likely to join and organize labor unions. Yet, there are also those who identify as “anarchists without adjectives”, which signifies a tolerance for all the various strains (Nettlau 1996). Although seemingly disparate in nature, all the aforementioned strains are linked by a common rejection of hierarchical authority and domination, and the desire to address society’s problems in a fashion that allows for self-determination and cooperation.
Modern anarchists and radical Marxists (DeLeon 1996, Meltzer 1996, Pannekoek 2003) have typically—and cynically—characterized modern trade unions as “class traitors”, noting union leadership’s collusion with large corporations against workers’ class interests. This analysis is also found in Marxism (Robinson 1988). This characterization is always followed by a disclaimer noting that unions themselves are not the problem, just the bureaucratic and hierarchical way in which many are run. This analysis of unions is particularly relevant due to anarchism’s central place within the labor movement during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the importance placed upon working class organizing (Berkman 2003, Brecher 1997, Goldman 1970, Rocker 1990). The IWW, for instance, was a major force in US labor history, helping to unite Native-born and immigrant workers in a wide-range of industries into “One Big Union” that thus wielded incredible clout.
There are contemporary anarchists who organize with class in mind (particularly with the working class), such as the IWW in the US and the Class War Federation of Great Britain (Class War Federation 1992).
The counter-perspective within anarchism is best illustrated by the writings of the CrimethInc Ex-Workers Collective (2000). This activist collective publishes inexpensive and widely-read propaganda for the anarchist movement. CrimethInc’s writings are the work of multiple individuals and thus offer varying opinions on the subjects discussed. The group’s main goal is to inspire readers to take more active control of their own lives. Their suggested method for battling capitalism and its entrenched corporate power structure is to evade participation in it at all. Instead they aim to live free of wage slavery and to survive off the excesses of capitalism, in order to provide resources for fighting against authority. Frequent suggestions for this include, but are not limited to, scamming, theft, and dumpstering.
CrimethInc does not advocate participation in unions or other forms of class-based organizing, nor does it explicitly encourage working at actual, so-called normal jobs. Bookchin (1995) calls this perspective “lifestyle anarchism”. The writings of Black (1985) and Zerzan (1994) have been influential to this “no work” attitude, in the former’s call to “abolish work” and that latter’s desire to “end civilization” itself. Even though CrimethInc has a , particular anti-work tendency, it usually reserves its harshest criticism for mind and body numbing labor. CrimethInc makes a thoughtful critique of capitalism and passionate call for personal liberation from it. CrimethInc is relatively new, thus many of its adherents are likely younger anarchists.
Anarchists are commonly portrayed as younger than the general population—or so asserts the media stereotype of the rebelling teenager. Some argue that these people are more idealistic in their youth (Mead 1974), while other studies (Fendrich and Turner 1989) have shown the opposite affect, as activists politically mature with age and become more active. In addition to these maturation affects, there can be generational differences, as the interests, focuses, and activities of certain age groups in various eras.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (2004) concluded that workers in 2003 aged 16-24 had the lowest levels of union membership (5.1 percent), even lower than workers 65 and over. The workers with the highest percentage of membership were aged 45-54 (17.6). Lower age workers have low union membership, in part, due to the low-levels of unionization in low-paid entry jobs frequently held by youth.
Whites in the US had the second highest percentage of union membership after African-Americans (Bureau of Labor Statistics 2004). In 2003, 16.5 percent of all employed African-Americans were in unions, while 12.5 percent of Whites were in unions. The Bureau also notes that males are more likely to be in unions than females. For those workers 16 years old and over, 14.3 percent of men and 11.4 percent of women are union members.
Lesbian and gay labor activists “have long seen themselves as a bridge between two natural allies” (Bain 1999, 58). Grevatt (2001) likewise argues that the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) movement is solidly rooted in the working class, and points towards the Pride At Work constituency group within the AFL-CIO as a good example LGBT organizing within the labor movement. Yet, Humphrey (1999) found little union support in a study of lesbians and gays in public service occupations, despite the official recognition by the union of the discrimination some faced for their sexual orientation. Homosexual union members self-organized within the union, constituting an important committee.
Historically, many anarchists have rejected organized religion, particularly hierarchical religions like Catholicism (Bakunin 1970, Goldman 2001). The strongest proponents of atheism within anarchism have themselves been working class union organizers. Still, some anarchists remain religious or spiritual; Leo Tolstoy and the Catholic Worker movement are primary examples of Christian anarchists. There are also differences in the tendency to unionize based upon religious affiliation. A study conducted by Misra and Hicks (1994) found that Catholics in affluent democracies—as those in Canada and the US—have on average not unionized at the rate of non-Catholics.
Union membership in the US is relatively low compared to other industrialized countries such as in Western Europe. For example, British union membership was until recently 50 percent of the working population (Heery, et al. 2002). Although in decline, British membership still remains higher than in the US, where union members constitute just under 13 percent of the labor force (Bureau of Labor Statistics 2004).
Summary & Hypotheses. Data and Methods
Discussion and Conclusions. References. Appendix