Latest Revision: July 5, 2020
We live in an era of risings— rising seas, rising nationalist hate, and a rising working class. The global economy we were told back in the 90s would be the “end of history” came to a crash in 2008 and hasn’t looked healthy since. For decades, factories have been moving to the former colonized world, machines have been replacing workers in more and more positions, and our unions have been declining both in membership and relevance. Workers are being told to get by with more debt, lower wages, worse prospects, and more rage— while productive workplaces and public infrastructure have been replaced with more prisons, militarized police, privatization and unprecedented surveillance by the government and private companies alike. As globalization rips away the concessions workers in the first world had, fascists blame foreigners, immigrants, and anyone but the real culprit- the capitalist system and its modes of control. Meanwhile, people around the world are fighting back against austerity, corporate power, and fascism— showing the bureaucrats of the decaying old labor unions what it means to fight.
Workers’ Defense Alliance is a network of working class people and autonomous councils organized on the job and in the streets to practice militant rank and file labor struggle and community self defense. We are an anti-capitalist, anti-authoritarian organization committed to building and maintaining autonomous worker and tenant councils, defense bodies, and mutual aid projects. We are an anti-racist and anti-sexist network that recognizes that an injury to one is an injury to all, and that the liberation of each is bound up in the liberation of all. We set out to unmake this nightmare world we’re inheriting, and make a new one in the ashes of the old.
Our Core Principles
Working Class Struggle: We provide mutual defense as working class people in our work and in our community, through our solidarity network, worker and tenant councils, and community self defense working groups. We are an anti-capitalist, anti-state network, and we are fighting for worker control over our workplaces, federative and democratic community control over our communities, and personal autonomy.
Liberation from Oppression: We recognize white supremacy, patriarchy, and other forms of oppression as integral parts of the capitalist system, and actively opposing them as central to our mutual defense as a class.
Militancy: We reject the state, will exercise our right to build power by any means necessary, and do not ask for the state’s recognition. We rely on our own power through organization and direct action. We build the tools of community self defense and mutual aid required to carry out militant class struggle and resist repression by the state, fascists, and bosses. We do not seek labor peace; we practice class warfare.
Autonomy and Democracy: We control our organization through participatory democracy, autonomy, and consent. We are independent of political parties and not funded by nonprofit grants. We trust our working groups and members to participate in coordinating our actions together, without having to be ordered to do anything we don’t consent to.
Solidarity Across the Working Class
The working class are the people who do not own the means of production or enough real estate to let them make a passive income- people who have to sell our labor to make a living. We include the unemployed and those relying on welfare. We include workers of every “collar”, except those who are given the power to hire and fire as managers over others. We are an organization of the working class.
The working class exists because we are dispossessed. Capitalism isn’t just the natural order of things- it is a specific way of running society that was born a few hundred years ago, This system was set up intentionally- many of the most powerful global institutions today rest upon centuries of wealth extracted through land enclosures, colonial expansion and repression, and the transatlantic slave trade. Our society isn’t broken. It functions exactly as intended for the benefit of the few at the expense of working people across the globe.
Most of the working class, globally, lives in the former colonized world: South and East Asia, Africa, Latin America. Another massive part lives in the former Soviet bloc. Even in Europe and the English-speaking colonial countries like America, people of color, who went through colonialism, make up a disproportionate part of the class. Colonized workers are typically repressed, dispossessed, and exploited at extreme rates- while that same exploitation is used as competition to discipline the demands of racially privileged workers and misdirect their anger. The working class is disproportionately disabled, in an economic system that both routinely maims working people, and in a world where a person is only considered healthy and worthy if they are able to make profits for capital.. The working class is disproportionately women and queer folk, and the reproductive labor that gender-oppressed people are expected to carry out is key to allowing labofr to continue enriching capital. As care and reproductive work are increasingly central to the economy, these industries such as education and health care often march at the front of class struggle. Marginalized workers—immigrants; women in service, healthcare, and education industries; workers in former colonies; and prisoners—all are repeatedly at the front of today’s most militant labor struggles. For the marginalized majority of the working class, the violence of capitalism is overt and a routine part of life- and defense against this violence is a basic condition for organizing as workers.
The workers most repressed by the state, racism, sexism, and other systems are usually exploited the worst. Even the privileged workers are kept in line because their demands are limited by the fact that they have to compete with the most repressed workers and their low wages. For example, workers who face the threat of deportation because they are undocumented can be more easily subjected to sub-minimum wages, little or no workplace safety, and wage theft, because if they complain or organize, the boss can report them to ICE. Other workers can only demand so much even if they are unionized, because they could be replaced with the most exploited workers. In a very real sense, an injury to one is an injury to all.
When we call for working class unity, we are not calling for the burying of the different identities within the working class. We are saying the working class should unite around supporting all of us, against all of our oppressions. The liberation of any part of the working class is bound up in the liberation of each other. Because of that, our struggle as revolutionary unionists can’t stop at issues of wages, hours, and conditions. Our oppression doesn’t start or stop when we punch in or punch out, and neither can our struggle against it. Similarly, our struggles as revolutionary workers cannot stop at acknowledgements, peaceful alternative spaces, and representation- we aim to dismantle the material system of capitalism.
Because our liberation as workers is tied to the liberation of workers anywhere, we support worker struggles across the world. We are against wars that kill our fellow workers and governments that repress them. We recognize that our day to day interests as workers anywhere in the world are bound up in the defense and liberation of workers everywhere.
Frequently, in the US, the unions are restricted both by law and their own priorities to dealing only with “Bread and butter” unionism, which sees its only goal as representing the direct economic interests of the union’s members, with no broader mission of building a strong working class movement or addressing our needs as workers outside of the workplace. Meanwhile, “community issues” are left to networks of nonprofit organizations, often funded by foundations with ties to some of the richest philanthropists and businesses, which push for moderate reforms and band-aid solutions without building working class power. We reject both of these forms of activism. We call for militant workers and tenant councils to push around the issues of the whole class, and for social movements to grasp the roots of our problems in capitalism and organize on a working class basis. Wherever we can, we push demands not only on our hours, our pay, and other issues about our work- we also push for the right to choose what our work is making. When construction workers refuse to build a condo over the one good park in the neighborhood, or when tech workers refuse to make surveillance programs for cops, this strikes at the heart of capitalism. We push for control over our labor and our lives, and we confront capital to take back the power it robs from us as workers.
Organizing for Revolution
We aim to be a revolutionary organization. Our goal is to prepare and fight for the overthrow of capitalism and the state, the seizure of land and capital for the commons under the control of working people, and breaking down all unjust authority and hierarchies.
We know that we need to organize to get free. We are being exploited because bosses, landlords, the government, patriarchy, and white supremacy are organized. Working class people need to form our own organizations, separate from the state, political parties, capitalists, or any other part of the ruling class. We need to be organized so that we can run our communities in cooperative ways without those who seek to exploit and dominate others.
The main goal of the revolutionary organization is to become more competent, confident, and organized as working class people, and help other working class people do the same. We seek to fight against capitalists, win as much as we can, and learn everything we can from those struggles so we can.
We believe in a leadership of ideas. The most effective ways of struggling and freeing ourselves is for the best practices and ideas that working class people come up with in our struggles to become common practice and adapt as different groups of workers use them. These ideas come from all across the world, so as revolutionary workers it’s important for us to learn from working class movements everywhere and understand why they succeed or fail. When we spread our ideas, we try to make them as open and accessible as possible.
Our organizing style is centered around building trust and participation. For our organization to be able to carry out the confrontations with capitalism that we do, we need to be able to trust one another and rely on each other to help move the work along. Encouraging all of our members to participate in the organization allows us all members to gain trust and experience from struggling alongside each other, and also helps prevent a few members from taking on too much work, gaining too much power over the work, or burning out. In order to build trust, we reject manipulative forms of organizing or the mindset of instrumentalizing working people in the service of an organization- we put our organization at the service of each other as working people.
We organize by putting the work first, and then building organizational machinery to facilitate that work. What this means is that many of our projects begin as informal organization, building up interest and doing the actual work of confronting capitalists or defending or supporting each other. We formalize these projects into working groups when doing so is necessary to build and coordinate that work more effectively. When a working group’s work is completed or has transformed beyond what the structure can facilitate, we are only too happy to allow working groups to dissolve or transform.
We Liberate Ourselves
We believe that the liberation of working class people into free human beings can only be achieved by the action of workers ourselves.
Two Pillars, Many Fronts
To fight capitalism, we have to struggle at the place where capitalism exploits us. For most working class people, that’s the workplace (where we work and produce profit) and the home (where we pay rent). At work, we make society run- and if we stopped, or took control of the industry, we could remake society the way we want it. Even when we punch out of work, the place where we lay our head down is held hostage by landlords. Workers councils (formed from workplace struggles) and neighborhood councils (formed from tenant struggles) could be the foundation for a new society, coordinating what our communities need and how to get them. We put these two forms of independent working class organizations- workers councils and tenant councils- at the center of our strategy, forming the working class communities around which our community self defense revolves.
However, the militant worker and tenant councils we envision as the core of our strategy do not yet exist. A core goal for us is to help organize these bodies, by doing the hard work of organizing in our workplaces and communities. One of the vehicles through which we aim to carry out this organizing is the Solidarity Network. The Solidarity Network is growing to act as a mutual defense association of workers and tenants by dealing directly with the workplace and housing grievances of our members and those in the community who ask for our help. We do not intend to enter into conflicts with bosses, win a few concessions, and then move on- the goal of the Solidarity Network is to be a fighting force that not only wins immediate cases, but also helps grow new worker and tenant councils, linked together by the Solidarity Network. From this seed, we hope to grow worker power whether inside and between the existing union structures, or outside of them.
We understand that, as we struggle against capitalism, we will face the repression of the state, capital, and reactionary enemies. We therefore see building survival programs and the ability to defend ourselves as an integral and necessary part of working class power.
From the first unions to the Black Panther Party, revolutionary organizations have always found ways to take care of each other and our communities. This is different from charity. When the rich practice charity, they are using the wealth they got from exploiting us to put a band-aid on the problem, and to do it the way they decide things need to be done. Our survival programs are based on working class people providing for each other through mutual aid, because we know best what our communities need. Our survival programs don’t just try to treat the symptoms of a problem. We use these spaces to talk over where our problems come from, and organize to fight the causes.
Defending ourselves isn’t a choice; it’s something we have to do. Any revolutionary movement that poses a real threat to capitalism will face repression from the state and from reactionary forces. More importantly, many of us will face state and non-state violence even if we do nothing-- simply for existing. The work of defending our movements and communities is too important to be left to those without rooted connections in those communities and struggles- and we certainly aren’t going to trust the state to protect us!
Our defense work takes on a “mass” approach as much as feasible, accepting that some roles (such as handling sensitive research) need to be kept more confidential and secure. A mass orientation means we see the defense of the working class as something the whole working class can participate in– not only a select vanguard or a special body of partisans. We look to the most successful resistance movements by working and oppressed people throughout history, such as the antifascist resistance in Europe, revolutionary struggles against colonialism, militant labor struggles like the 1934 Teamster Strike here in Minneapolis, the Black Panther Party, or the revolution in Rojava and see that they involved people of all genders, ages, and professions in the defense of the class. Defense, just like a union or tenant struggle, is a transformative collective experience for those who participate.
Most repression of workers is not directly physically violent, but instead uses the violence of the law, firings, evictions, and other forms of punishment. One of our main areas of defense work is providing legal defense to those engaged in direct action. This includes jail support, helping pay bail, connecting people with lawyers, and assisting their defense through protest actions and organizing. Where militant workers face retaliation from their bosses or landlords, or even from the leadership of their unions, we help them resist and withstand the backlash. This defense work is essential, because it allows us to carry out more militant and ambitious actions on the job and in our community. When we protect our fellow workers who take risks through direct action, we help keep those workers free and in the fight alongside us.
Sometimes, the repression of workers is physically violent- either by the police against picket lines, or by private security or far-right forces. We do not choose these fights, but understand that we have a responsibility and a right to defend ourselves from attack. So, many people within our network practice physical self defense skills. Other members help gather intelligence about fascist organizing and expose the violence of the police through copwatching, and keep tabs on private security companies. Others find roles supporting the people doing higher risk work.
We understand that defending ourselves against repression will not bring about a revolutionary change in power on its own. A strong working class movement on the job and in the neighborhood requires a strong defense- and a strong defense is built through the power that working class people have when we are organized against capitalism.
Practices We Avoid
Confrontational organizing must always contend with the possibility of isolation, arrest, and even violent reprisals that frequently fall on the most vulnerable among us. Because of this we must consider our actions and their potential outcomes carefully. We strive to build the trust and strength within the working class to allow us to win greater victories and take on more ambitious action. We scale up our security practices to keep each other safe in line with the level of struggle that we and our fellow workers are engaged in.
However, we need to be careful not to “jump the gun”. When militant workers are much more confrontational with capital or the state than the workers around us are willing to be, it is easy to isolate us, present worker militancy as a threat to “society”, and repress us. Revolutionary transformation is a collective process that we workers carry out ourselves. We can’t substitute the actions of a small, militant group for the force of working people taking mass action.
Nationalism and Racism
We reject all forms of nationalism which pretend that we have a common interest with the capitalists and political class of our own nation, and that we are the enemies of workers of other nations. As long as workers anywhere are repressed, the threat of competition with them can be used to discipline workers elsewhere- and tariffs and protections can be taken away when the need comes to discipline workers with competition. Many decades of labor struggles show us that international and inter-communal solidarity, not protectionism, are our only way forward.
We recognize the validity of struggles against colonialism as part of the working class struggle, and the necessity of anti-colonial struggle by workers. At the same time, we can see that in most countries that have fought their way to independence from direct colonialism, there are forms of new colonialism that keep them in the same place in the global economy through debt, strings attached to development aid, and the buying off of national leaders. In many former colonies, the national governments serve to police the working class on behalf of global or domestic capital. We support the struggle of workers both against colonialism, and against the capitalists and state capitalists of their own nation.
When we organize, we remember that earning and maintaining trust is a core part of transforming shared oppressions into shared power. We base our organizing on being honest with others and ourselves about our goals and interests, building real ownership over decision-making by the workers, tenants, and oppressed people impacted, and never instrumentalizing others.
We fight for better wages, conditions, and other on the job demands because we need these demands to live better lives. However, we do not see these demands as the be all and end all of our organizing. Workers’ lives do not end when we clock out for the day, and the whole society we live in- what some people call a “social factory”- is the site of our struggle as workers over the conditions of our lives. We recognize issues such as police brutality, pollution, gendered violence, housing, and more as having a class dimension to them. We support workers organizing as a class around these issues- both on the shop floor and off of it.
While we do not prohibit members from personally voting or endorsing elected officials, we do not engage directly in electoral politics. There are many reasons for this, but the main one is that we want our organization to be a place where working class politics are built outside of and in opposition to the state. Often, organizations that try to do both electoral organizing and anti-electoral organizing find themselves devoting less resources to their mass, direct action, or subordinating the timing, tone, or content of that mass work to the needs of the next election. Moreover, when working class movements win a place in government, even the best intentioned politicians run up against the limits placed on them by their job as a manager of a capitalist government. There are plenty of organizations trying to build a worker’s party; we prefer to focus on building autonomous workers’ power.
The Service Model
We work alongside other working class people and require the active participation of our fellow workers in our collective struggles for liberation. Sometimes, organizations end up being a service provider to workers, oppressed people, or other activists- giving representation over workplace grievances, food or other needs, defense, or legal aid with professionals, and not expecting the party being “serviced” to take an active role. When organizations do this, we don’t build the skills or confidence of the people we are working with, or the capacity of our class to carry out these roles. When we work with a group or person, we try to work alongside them, teach them what we know, and learn from what they know. If someone does not want others to struggle on their behalf but not participate, we may find that we are not in solidarity.
We are trying to build a revolutionary movement of the working class– not just to build our own organization. If a group of workers are building trust and militancy among themselves and confronting power, but are doing so through another organization, we try to work in solidarity with them and support and celebrate their accomplishments. We do not assume that our organization is the only place where working class power is going to be built, and we do not substitute our organization for the working class.
We are organizing to overthrow the power of capitalism, the state, and the colonial and sexist systems that are part and parcel of global capitalism. We are not organizing as a form of self-expression, or of trying to show that we are virtuous or good people. In the activist community, there is a tendency to focus on showing that the activist is a good person. For example, many of us have met the “white ally” who puts personally “unlearning whiteness” and becoming the most antiracist ally above organizing to protect communities against cops or support black and brown workers against white supremacy on the job. Or, the workplace organizer for whom organizing is less about helping other workers build power over our own work, and more about putting a “win” under their belt and being known as a Good Organizer.
While it’s worthwhile to give people recognition and praise when they do good work or make personal progress away from harmful attitudes, the goal of our organizing is not to prove that we are moral people or to build an identity for ourselves as activists. The goal of our organizing is collective liberation from concrete conditions of oppression.
In the immediate future, the goals of our federation are the organization of mass working class defense organizations in our workplaces, in our communities as tenants and people in need of housing, and on the street level against repression, police terror, and fascist violence.
One of our core goals for the early 2020s is to create a functioning Solidarity Network to organize mutual defense of workers and tenants, link together and help spur organizing of clusters of workers and tenants, and give rise to autonomous worker and tenant councils. We see the Solidarity Network not only as a place where workers not in a militant union can seek mutual defense, but also as the connecting link between worker and tenant councils.
We intend to continue the existing defense committee projects we have been working on, including harm reduction, anti-racist intelligence, and copwatch organizing against police terror. Through our copwatch patrol program, we hope to create a sustained, organizing street presence, and build up a base of routinely active workers who patrol together.
Our network falls broadly into the traditions of anarcho-syndicalism, anarchist communism, autonomism, and post-colonial workers movements while integrating elements of revolutionary movements consistent with the core focus and framework of a class struggle anarchist movement.
Our focus on workplace and tenant councils takes inspiration from the anarcho-syndicalist movement, which we interpret broadly to mean not only the mass syndicalist unions, but also the community institutions these anarchist movements built, including mutual aid societies, tenant organizations, and defense committees. We take further inspiration from the autonomist movement, which began with worker revolts against capitalism and reformist direction of unions in Europe in the 1960s, and which developed into a broader struggle both in the factories and outside of them. Within that tradition, we also look to the Unitary Base Committees and later Base Unions, or COBAS.
Our defense committee concepts borrow from historical labor defense committees, such as the Union Defense Guard of the Twin Cities Teamsters Local 574, the spanish CNT (Confederación Nacional del Trabajo) defense committees, the Irish Citizens Army, and the Industrial Workers of the World’s General Defense Committee Local 14, which we have roots in. We also take inspiration from the Black Panther Party, both in the practice of ongoing community defense, and in providing mutual aid. Finally, we take inspiration from antifascist struggles, particularly the mass antifascism developed by veterans of Anti Racist Action in the Twin Cities.