Interview with Dan Swain: Marx’s Theory of Alienation
Dan Swain is an activist and writer. He is currently working on a PhD in Marxism and Ethics at the…
A number of people have criticized the article on pop-up unions. The main accusations levied against the article: 1) the numbers are wrong 2) The interpretation of electricians’ dispute 3) that I glorify the pop-up union.
1) When people pointed out a flawed membership number I immediately corrected it and took responsibility. However, the conclusions of the article remain the same: workers have been ill-served by Unison and found themselves having to construct novel forms of organisation. This process should not be dissmissed. This is a process many workers in struggle have had to go through.
An article on the Pilkington Strike from 1970 shows how “the rank and file committee [didn’t] start off with an ingrained hatred or even distrust of the G&MWU officials. They established their committee so as to fill in obvious gaps in the existing, organisation […]. It was only when the union moved from half-hearted co-operation with the strikers to open hostility and scabbing (when the strike was about a fortnight old) that the rank and file committee began to move against the union. (Source:
I wonder why people are against all new forms of organisation? Is it perhaps because it threatens to upset ‘(un)healthy’ balances inside of the trade union movement…
2) It can be argued that I am ‘soft’ on Len McCluskey in the article and my interpretation missed the mark. His ‘social movement unionism’ (Kim Moody) should be welcomed - yet criticised. However, we shouldn’t define ourselves first and foremost by our difference but rather develop an analysis of the balance of forces inside of the union and the wider working class. In doing so, we can judge whether his strategy constitutes an advance or retreat. This can help us to understand what kind of forms of organisations are required and how we can apply pressure and work together.
To dismiss the entire article - or, much rather the pop-up union - because of two ‘flawed’ sentences is the cheapest trick in the hand book and will not stand the test of time.
3) I don’t glorify the pop-up union. I wish there were thousands of Unison branches across the country which would lead the fight against outsourcing, privatisation and cuts. In some localities such as London Met, SOAS and Tower Hamlets this is the case. We should remember that these are exceptions to the norm.
What I refer to as ‘zombie branches’ are indeed ‘zombie branches’. This does not however exclude the very possibility of action. As David McNally points out in his book Monsters of the Market, George Romero’s and Wes Craven’s zombie movies always end in zombie revolts. Perhaps we should organise a reading group of McNally’s book to show how capitalism/30 years of ‘downturn’ turns us into zombies, and how we can fight the ‘giant vampire squids’ of Goldman Sachs (Taibbi).
As I conclude in the article: “Political mobilisation and struggle necessarily creates new organs, tools and structures. Some of these will be premature and will fail; others will succeed. The Pop-Up Union at Sussex has strong potential to act as scaffolding for the wider struggle on campus and to transcend the narrow confines of recent trade union struggles in Britain. The future of this project is of course uncertain. But we can be sure of one thing — the fight at Sussex will remain an immediate reference point for students and university workers in the struggles to come.”
Sounds a bit too much like Rosa Luxemburg to me but I never thought that would be a crime.
Cosmarxpolitan, Issue 2
The Asiatic mode of production and your butt
Professor Richard Wolff was interviewed by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now. The interview is nice. You can watch it here.
If you want to know more about his work and some of its limitations you can read my review of his latest book Democracy at Work: A cure for Capitalism here.
LISBON, 25 APRIL 1974