Rebuilding Our Unions On Solid Foundations: Chapter 3
In the second part of these articles the point was emphasised that this was a generalised critique of the top heavy nature of our unions. A generalised observation of the degenerate effect of the bureaucratisation and the nepotism and cronyism that has bedevilled our movement for the last generation or so.
Any individual angst this causes among those in our movement who are genuinely doing their best is misplaced as there is no sleight aimed at such individuals. Those who are amongst the bloodsucking bureaucratic elite who are offended then that is very unfortunate.
Individual sensibility is an afterthought when addressing such important an issue. Especially the individual sensibilities of those whose greed and misplaced sense of entitlement has brought the trade union movement almost to a halt and on the verge of implosion.
The only hope of survival and regeneration is for our unions is if the union, (which is its collective membership), gets up off of its knees, expels the inner policeman and starts the fightback.
The regeneration can only happen from the bottom up. Workplace organisation and the election of self sacrificing as opposed to self serving shop stewards is the only way to build effectively. Those seeking a career or an easy time will only damage the union further.
However such individuals will not appear all of a sudden out of thin air. They will come from the ranks of genuine trade union members.
That creates a conundrum from the start. The ranks of genuine union members have been much depleted in recent years as a result of the defeats and false dawns repeatedly foisted upon us by the well healed, but mainly incompetant and cowardly 'leaďership ' of the British trade union establishment.
But away from the betrayals and the endless Saturday afternoon strolls around London we also have their lazy and debilitating approach to the day to day issues.
With view to bringing in more subscription income, recruitment at all costs to justify the recruitment officers job is undertaken on the basis of selling an industrial insurance society.
In a society based on the few benefiting as a result of the suffering of the many a subservient, cap doffing culture is necessary and already exists anyway.
The pathetic exacerbation of that culture is well served by the industrial insurance society approach.
The blood curdling battle cry of the cardholder imbued with this culture is enough to drive a genuine representative insane, 'where do I stand legally'.
From the ludicrous expectations that have been raised by our snake oil salesmen known as recruitment officers to the fact that the law isn't designed to benefit working people, the idiotic facade rumbles on.
Most cardholders simply leave if they ever grasp what is really going on.
It is certainly not from the ranks of the card holders that a stewards movement is going to be reborn.
The subservient nature of those defeated by a culture based on exploitation and deceit, is wholly inappropriate for anyone standing for a shop stewards position. Doffing the cap to the employer and fitting in are the despicable traits of the defeated and demoralised. Those who have had the humanity knocked out of them by a dog eat dog society.
Only those who are not on their knees, only those who are prepared to stand up and challenge, who are prepared to confront, in short, who are prepared to fightback, should stand for a stewards position.
Only people who have not been beaten down and robbed of their dignity and self respect stand any chance of doing a stewards job properly.
In other words only a genuine trade unionist will be capable of doing the job
So what makes a genuine trade unionist. (It is taken for read we are talking about individuals who have not had the heart and backbòne knocked out of them by this obscene lickspittle culture).
The text below may sound blatantly obvious to old hands. Think back to when we started out though , most workers were in the union, there were genuine union members and stewards all over the place. We were lucky there were people there to tell us the basics, that isn't the case today. Therefore outlining the simple ABCs isn't out of place for those who are prepared to fightback today.
First and foremost is being a member of the union. However the first question that needs answering is what is the appropriate union. Simply joining ' a union,' with no forethought is out of the question.
A study of what the situation is in the workplace and the industŕy you are employed in is an essential pre requisite to joining a union. In most cases, it will not be as straightforward as the examples given. A more in depth examination is required in such circumstances. Firstly let's look at the more straightforward situations.
For the skilled workers sometimes the choice is obvious. A fire fighter joins the Fire Brigade Union ( FBU). Train Drivers would usually join Aslef. There are industries like the rail where there is a straightforward decision to be made. If you are not a Driver and therefore not in Aslef then there is the rail maritime and transport union. There is also the Transport and Salaried Staff Association (TSSA) for those undertaking clerical work in the rail industry. Similarly if you were employed by Royal Mail it is straightforward that the communication workers union (CWU).
There are other areas where the decision is fairly straightforward. In education, teachers tend to be in a union. The biggest is the NEU but there is also the National Association of Schoolteachers and Women Teachers NASUWT.
The general rule of thumb is to join the union that your workmates are in and that is organised in your workplace.
However for many employment starts in a workplace that is completely unorganized.
Finding out why over a period of time is essential. Most probably, in such circumstances no one has ever been in a union, however, as a steward would soon find out, basing activity or thought on assumptions rather than facts is a fundamental error. It might be that your workmates have never given joining a union a second thought. It could be that they have been in a union and have been badly let down which will make your task that much harder. However establishing the facts is always the first point of call.
There are circumstances where it is blatantly obvious what union you should join. For example if you were employed by the notorious McDonald's fast food chain the union conducting a campaign to get the company organised is underway. The bakers, food and allied workers union has conducted two strikes so far to highlight the plight of McDonald's employees. The zero hours contracts, the poor hourly rates, the widespread bullying. It shouldn't take a genius to work out that the BFAWU is the union to join.
Therefore, apart from the sort of situations outlined above, the appropriate union to join isn't always that straightforward and requires a bit of thought and inquiry. It sometimes involves a lot of hard work and thought.
Our passive, where do I stand legally, cardholder therefore falls at the first hurdle.
Only those prepared to question, to think and to put their head above the parapet are equipped for this relatively straightforward conundrum. Sheep need not apply.
If there is no union in the workplace the task of persuading your workmates that joining a union and acting collectively is on the order of the day. Explaining that it is the only way to stand a chance of improving conditions in the workplace isn't easy but that is the the task in front of a genuine trade unionist.
This is the key task and there is no blueprint as every situation is different and it is therefore necessary to adapt and confront and overcome problems. Again those who constantly say Sir are wholly unsuited to the task.
Even the less onerous and risky tasks of a genuine trade unionist are too much for a cardholder.
The internal elections for a senior position in the union or a governing body that should be deciding on policy and holding full time officers to account, is hard work. Reading what the candidates are supposed to stand for etc. Can you imagine a cardholder, who believes they are in an industrial insurance society taking the time and trouble to undertake such a task. Eighty to ninety per cent don't bother. It speaks volumes
In the three biggest unions in the country the turnout in the last elections for the general secretary were
Unite 12.2 per cent - 87.8 per cent didn't bother
Unison 16.6 per cent - 83.4 per cent didn't bother
GMB a laughable 4.5 per cent - 95.5 per cent didn't bother .
Only those with a functioning brain and a backbone who are serious about fighting back should consider becoming shop stewards. Only those who have got off of their knees and expelled the inner policeman need apply.
It is a task that only a genuine unionist has any chance of undertaking successfully.
Cardholders and those wedded to selfishness are easily bought off or crushed by the employer.
Only those prepared to build an effective resistance stand any chance of rebuilding the stewards movement. Those who will become shop stewards will come from the ranks of genuine union members.
Most future stewards are not in unions yet.
The ranks of the genuine unionists are much depleted .
But that a rebirth of the shop stewards movement is essential is as clear as day.
Only from the ranks of genuine union members will effective stewards be elected
Therefore outlining what a genuine union member is before going on to what a stewards role is plays a small but important role.
Those who believe that the priority for a union is an industrial insurance society are doomed to failure.