Rebuilding Our Unions On Strong Foundations: Chapter 4
The role of a shop steward is to set an example and to keep the members who elected them informed.
Informed as to what is going on in the workplace, in the company and in the industry as well as wider industrial and political issues.
It is also incumbent on a shop steward to be aware of and to be knowledgeable in relation to the rules, regulations and procedures covering the workplace.
Especially the grievance and disciplinary procedures.
At a later stage basic skills in things like letter writing and how to conduct yourself at a meeting must be acquired.
Raising the level of conciousness and instilling confidence in the union members who have elected you is the prime objective of a genuine shop steward
Having a compliant cap doffing and weak workforce is essential to the employers and the establishment.
It is the reason that the ruling elite, through their representatives in the Tory party, the courts, the police and the security forces moved heaven and earth to destroy the shop stewards movement.
A conscious workforce confident of its collective strength is the last thing that the employers and the establishment want. A cap doffing, ignorant, frightened and individualised workforce is essential if exploitation is to continue the at the level it has for the last generation.
Low pay, zero hours contracts and appalling working conditions are of paramount importance for maintaining the profit levels of the few.
The obvious conclusion is that there is a desperate need to rebuild our unions at a workplace and branch level. To succeed it is essential to rebuild the shop stewards movement. However it takes heart and backbone to offer yourself up to stand for election to become a genuine shop steward.
It means self sacrifice, it means scrupulous honesty, at the same time as developing a degree of subtlety. Above all it will mean taking responsability.
However before being able to stand for a stewards position many will be faced with the task of getting their work colleagues to join the union.
It can sometimes be an onerous task. If a trade union bureacracy has recruited before on the basis of the industrial insurance society model. Only for the unrealistic expectations to brought back down to earth with a bump when the incompetent and lazy over paid hired hands fail to deliver yet again it can be all but impossible to recruit to the union.
It is a difficult task in any event. Take the example of McDonald's that was referred to in a previous chapter. The Bakers union is waging a radical campaign to unionise this bullying corporate giant.
That should be an easier set of circumstances. The problem is that many workers employed by a bullying corporation like this are terrified of joining the union for fear of being singled out and victimised.
That is the realíty and it is the fundamental task of a genuine steward to acquire the skills and the backbone to be able to overcome the problems that are posed.
In 2017 the bullying and harassment became so bad in a couple of stores everyone joined up to the Bakers union and a strike ballot was organised and a national campaign launched.
Such occurrences are rare and the battle is often being conducted at a much more mundane level.
If a store with a bullying manager, who was intimidating the staff and making arbitrary decisions did not consist of a workforce that was pushed so far that they took collective action. If the workforce didn't have one of the best unions in the country coming to their aid in full force, what can be achieved.
Potentially a great deal. There are grievance procedures and if a member who had been picked on like this was prepared to fightback the 'work colleague' who advises and guides is very likely to eventually be elected as a shop steward.
However first will come the backbone and damned hard work that is required to match the bravery that has been shown by the member who had been victimised and has found the courage to fightback. This example could apply to most employers in any part of the country
A genuine shop steward will have learned the appropriate procedure inside out. A real steward will ensure that times and dates of incidents, witness statements are established.
Hard work, backbone, presenting the case effectively, knowing the next stage of the procedure if a bad decision is made. This is the sort of situation that drew many into the unions in the days when they were run by the members for the members.
The confidence in the union, (i.e the membership and not the top heavy apperatus), when such a case ends in a result, is almost palpable. Giving confidence to the workforce who elected them is the role of a genuine steward.
That is achieved by a steward working hard to establish an understanding of the procedures of the employer, particularly but not exclusively the disciplinary and grievance procedures
This is not going to be the role of a steward according to those who have usurped power in our unions. Those who have managed the decline of our unions while protecting their vested self interest. Those who promote the industrial insurance society model of trade unionism. Those who do not even speak the same language as the rest of us any more. Those who seek to 'grow ' the union instead of rebuilding it.
The purpose of this piece is not to perpetuate the abject nonsense that has brought many of our unions to the brink of oblivion. There is no hidden agenda common to jobsworths and careerists.
The only aim of those behind this piece is to rebuild genuine rank and file unionism.
Central to that aim is rebuilding our unions in the workplace and at a branch level. Central to that is rebuilding the shop stewards movement. First and foremost that means workers, socialists and those not yet in employment being prepared to take up the cudgels and become a shop steward.
Heart and backbone have to be there in the first place if you are going to be a genuine steward. Hard work and confronting and overcoming problems is an essential quality for a shop steward as it is for everyone involved in the Labour movement.
The last thing the employers and establishment want is an organised workforce represented by informed, confident and competent shop Stewards.
So, we have a choice, we can stand in the shadows and have a moan and a whinge and expect someone else to do the heavy lifting or we can make our industries/ workplaces a better place to work by getting together, organising and electing stewards.