A report on the conference 'Anarcho-Syndicalism into the 21st Century' organised by the Anarcho-Syndicalist Group of Melbourne (ASGM) and held over the Easter Weekend at the Centre for Indigenous Studies building in Bouverie St., Carlton.
Considered to have been the best anarcho-syndicalist conference in years, 'Anarcho-Syndicalism into the 21st Century' attracted people from the length and breadth of Australia as well as Britain, Japan, Korea and New Zealand. The ASGM organised the conference in response to the growing interest in the ideas and methods of anarcho-syndicalism. The conference featured a wide variety of seminars, discussions and history workshops as well as nightly social activities that included slide shows, feasting and spontaneous outbursts of singing and dancing.
First up on day one was an introductory information session which included reports from delegates from interstate and overseas. Reports were received from the ASG-M, the Anarcho-Syndicalist Group of Perth (ASG-P), the Roseberry Anarcho-Syndicalists as well as reports by comrades from Korea and New Zealand.
The conference proper opened with a history workshop on the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in Australia with particular focus on the the IWW's involvement in the anti-conscription campaign during World War One and the subsequent imprisonment of the 'Sydney Twelve'.
The history theme continued the following day with a workshop on the International Workers Asociation (IWA) in Australia from the establishment of an exile section of the CNT-B, the Bulgarian section of the IWA, in Sydney in 1956. A Spanish CNT-in-exile section was established in Melbourne in 1965.
The Melbourne CNT-in-exile started the first Anarchist Black Cross group in Australia, initially known by its Spanish name - Cruz Negra Anarquista. CNT-in-exile members were active in establishing the Fitzroy Legal Service and the Tenants Union of Victoria as well as the Collingwood Free Store.
The best part of the IWA history workshop was concerned with the Anarcho-Syndicalist Federation (ASF) founded in Australia in 1986 and admitted to the IWA as the Australian section in 1988.
A total of five local unions and industrial associations were affiliated to the ASF between 1986 and 1992. The best known of these organisations was the Public Transport Workers Association (PTWA) which was active in the public transport industry and published the most popular anarcho-syndicalist paper in the country 'Sparks'. The PTWA and ASF locals were actively participated in support groups during the 1990 tramway dispute. The ASF locals in Melbourne were active in a number of disputes in the health, building and entertainment industries during the late eighties and early nineties as well as being involved in community struggles most notably the fight against the construction of over head power lines in the northern suburbs. The ASF developed the concept and practice of industrial support groups in Australia inspiring similar organisations today such as 'Food not Scabs'.
Although the ASF was involved in industrial struggle its main emphasis continued to be education about the ideas of anarcho-syndicalism through a variety of publications and regular public discussion meetings not to mention numerous posters, stickers and flyers.
The ASF was the first example of libertarian federalism in Australia since the demise of the Federation of Australian Anarchists (FAA) in 1976. The ASF made a major contribution to the development of anarcho-syndicalist organisation in Australia.
Sadly, the ASF dssolved in the wake of the disaffiliation of the Sydney local for breaches of the ASF statutes in 1992. Nevertheless, the example of the ASF continues to inspire a new generation of anarcho-syndicalists today.