What is a General Assembly?
General Assemblies (GA) are the lifeblood of the struggle. This is where workers (from the private and public sectors, the unemployed, pensioners, students, children of working families etc.) can really take ownership of their struggles, decide collectively. This is the true place of workers' democracy. By being open to all, not limited by corporatism, the GA unites the various sectors of our class. It’s the place where the life of the struggle can be built and the struggles extended.
This is why unions concentrate all their efforts to sabotage them! The text below, produced by the CNT-AIT Gers ( http://sia32.lautre.net ) explains succinctly what a truly autonomous GA in the hands of strikers must be, and details the various pitfalls to guard against.
What is a general assembly? (Text of the CNT AIT, Gers)
We call a general assembly the regular meeting, democratic and sovereign, of workers, regrouped as and when, without criteria, which can be varied (those belonging to a union, a confederation of unions, a social movement). At no point should these workers be prevented from being delegates: the principle of the GA is the vote by head count.
There are several types of GA:
- The GA of a single union
- The combined GA of several unions
- The GA of workers on strike
Moreover, it can be limited to a single profession or be ‘inter-professional’. [Regrouping those from many professions – trans.]
Functioning of the GA
- The GA is democratic, and therefore guarantees each a turn to speak, shared equally in terms of duration and discussion topics. This is guaranteed by a mandate given to the moderator.
- Speeches must also be consistent with an agenda, agreed at the beginning of the meeting, which does not include various decision points.
- The GA is sovereign, and decisions are made by a show of hands, without any overturning of decisions, according to the agenda.
- The GA meets regularly and keeps a record of its debates and decisions. The record is kept by a secretary appointed early in the meeting, who ensures the debates and decisions of the GA are made public. The GA gives the date and place of the next GA.
Threats to the GA
- Monopolisation of debate: The GA becomes un-democratic. The classic case is the shop-steward who takes the role of moderator, participates in discussions or responds systematically giving their opinions. A variation on this is a participant in the room who monopolises the floor or speaks too often.
- The handling of the debate: The agenda is not respected. When the debate is moving precisely towards direct action, or a motion to renew the strike, the agenda is changed in order to blur the clarity of discussion, and to confuse the whole point of a GA, which is to answer the question "What and how?"
- Lack of democracy within the GA: the vote is not respected. Violating the agenda, votes are taken several times on decisions already made. Often, manipulation occurs at the end of the meeting, to destroy its coherence and audacity.
- Neutralisation of the GA: there is no alternative to a GA, however rich. Often, a GA of striking workers is treated as a safety-valve for their anger, neutralising their revolt, transforming their militancy into a sterile talking-shop. Be on guard! In a GA, we have all the tools at hand to see if they are being monopolised, manipulated, and neutralised. In all cases, failure to denounce the above threats will undermine our activity, our words, and our decisions: in short, our very reason to go on strike!
"The emancipation of the workers will be the task of the workers themselves"
SIA 32 (Member of the CNT-AIT).