Arising from an article about the revolt of Bangladeshi garment workers against their disgusting exploitation, the need for them to "self-organize" outside the Trade Unions (which they haven't got anyway!) came up. It struck me that calls for workers to do just that - in short organize themselves autonomously - are frequently demanded on this web site, and probably elsewhere in the workers' movement too, though details are rarely given as to what exactly self-organization means, how we get to realize we need it, and how precisely we do it.
Oh! I know we all know about the Soviets, the Workers'Councils, as previously discovered forms of proletarian self-organization, but it wouldn't be much use would it, had you been there, to tell the Bangladeshi workers that "what we have to do is make a workers' council?" Responses like "what are they?" and "why do we want one?" might have been the chief and only responses.
But assuming that some workers somewhere, say at Verizon, had got over their confusion that the Unions were on their side, and assuming the idea had come up that now the Union's gone we'll have to organize our own struggles, the next question is: how do we start and what do we do? In fact, in this case as I give it, the most difficult part may already be over. That is the realizing that our self-organization is a replacement and an improvement over the substitutionist Trade Unions, and is a fundamental part of our struggle, a fundamental part of our kind of democracy, without which we're going nowhere.
But this sounds like the Promised Land; always over the horizon. The question is: what does self-organization mean? Do we call a meeting? Do we discuss that we're now taking responsibility for our own struggles, and what precisely does that mean? Do we talk about the fact that everybody now is not just allowed to speak, but ought to speak, no matter how stupid or clumsy they fear what they say may turn out, because now we're doing things our way not theirs. So who called or organized this meeting anyway, and how did they do it, and who are they? Do we explain to each other that what we're trying to do is all new for all of us, so that for once were really are "all in it together" and we're all learning? These may sound like heart stoppingly stupid questions to be asking, but self-organization has to begin somewhere doesn't it? We can't go on for ever trailing behind Trade Union banners, and demanding reforms to bourgeois democratic procedures, or just waiting for somebody to tell us what to do. Self-organization means that we have discussed and decided what we will do, and how to do it. But how do we get there? Do we sit around and wait for some breakthrough in class consciousness or can we just make a start anyway? But how?