Rebuilding Our Unions On Strong Foundations: Chapter 6
The reason that this series of articles, Rebuilding our Unions, has been written is to highlight and expose the malaise that has seen the bureaucratic degeneration of our unions over the last generation. To analyse how that degeneration has manifested itself, to expose and challenge the entirely false premise that prioritising the industrial insurance society model of trade unionism is.To put forward the arguments of genuine unionism based on solidarity, integrity and the collective approach.
Exposing what is really going on and what is so clearly wrong with the individualised, selfish and cowardly subservient approach is one thing - putting forward the alternative is another.
Rebuilding our unions, getting organised in the workplace and the community, rebuilding the shop stewards' network. All of these slogans remain empty and meaningless unless and until they are turned into a reality.
We will not rebuild our unions unless we get organised at a workplace and community level. This will not be done without rebuilding the shop stewards' movement. That will not be done unless genuine shop stewards are rebuilding the movement at a local level. This in turn cannot be done unless genuine shop stewards exist in the first place.
The only two places that a genuine steward could come from is the much depleted ranks of genuine trade unionists and from the ranks of those not yet in a trade union, who are willing to join up and become a genuine trade unionist as opposed to a passive cardholder - and then take up the cudgels and stand for election to become a genuine shop steward.
Only an individual who understands that the real purpose of the union, is combination to overcome the problems that cannot be dealt with individually has any chance of doing the job properly.
The knowledge of what a genuine union is and what it is trying to achieve and the collective approach necessary to achieve it is an essential prerequisite.
To hold such knowledge is a starting point but it is clearly not enough. A genuine shop steward must also have heart and backbone. Above all be prepared to confront and overcome problems, be prepared to confront management and those in self appointed authority.
It is a pleasant surprise to find out that most of these jumped up little upstarts are the same size as the rest of us and are not so big and brave when we get off of our knees and confront them.
However as well as heart and knowledge it is critical to have backbone.
The employers and their establishment have become quite unaccustomed to having a confident workforce aware of its employment rights.A workforce that is capable of using the rules, regulations and procedures to challenge the bullying and exploitative practices that the employers and there bag handlers have become used to.
Heart, backbone, hard work and self sacrifice.
The alternative is to bow down and accept our lot.
There are many more issues and situations to be highlighted and exposed as far as the bureaucratic degeneration of our unions is concerned.
The deliberate closing of branches has ensured that the unaccountable full time apparatus remains unaccountable to the membership.
The corruption of the committee men and women who should be holding our full time staff to account and taking decisions in relation to the industrial, political and organisational questions that the union faces. That is the reason such committees should be attended. Not getting off of work, getting the expense sheets signed and getting off as quickly as possible.
The outrageous collusion with management and the establishment, each worth a pamphlet in their own right.
Then there is the ludicrous and simplistic argumentation of some of our self justifying elements in the trade union bureaucracies that because the industrial landscape has changed somehow there is no longer a need to organise effectively to take on the employers and the establishment.
Regardless of the circumstances there is a simple choice. We organise, take responsibility and fight back. Or we sit back and do nothing while the reactionary right wing movement get stronger. The time and economic and political circumstances will change. The fundamental question of whether we fight back or not does not. Towards the end of the Victorian era when unskilled workers were joining the unions in droves and fighting back Britain was the workshop of the world with almost exclusive domination of the world market
In the late nineteen seventies trade union membership was at its highest level ever. (13 million). Eighty per cent plus were covered by trade union agreements. There were estimated to be a quarter of a million shop stewards. This at a time when two world wars had broken the back of British imperialism and the manufacturing base of this country was in dramatic decline.
The right wing Tory and 'new' Labour governments since that time have managed their decline, protecting the interests of the ruling elite.
In 2018 Britain is at best a renter economy based on the shady dealings of the financial oligarchy, and following Brexit and it's woeful mishandling by the Tory government, is set to become an economic basket case.
Trade union membership has halved, what's left of it is based on the subservient industrial insurance society model and genuine shop stewards have become a very rare species.
The point is that whatever the objective or subjective circumstances are, there is a plain, simple and straightforward choice. We either carry on with a defeatist approach hoping that someone else will do something for us or we get off of our knees and start fighting back.
Pressure groups inside the Labour movement are proving to be ineffective and some are little more than individual fan clubs for this that or the other MP. At best they are toothless with some groupings (or more accurately the undemocratic leadership of such organisations, who have usurped power) acting against the interests of the anti austerity movement that Jeremy Corbyn's leadership represents.
It is only if ordinary working people take back control of their own organisations and turn the top down institutions back into proper unions that we will be in with a chance of really changing things for the better.
That means the rebirth of the shop stewards movement and that can only be achieved by ordinary people being elected as shop stewards in workplaces the length and breadth of the country.