Rebuilding Our Unions On Solid Foundations: Chapter 5
Rebuilding genuine unionism in the workplace, raising the level of consciousness, building confidence through the collective approach is the vital first step from which all else develops.
Effective workplace union organisation can be spread throughout an industry if there is a functioning stewards network. A true rank and file organisation free of the influence of the opportunistic bureaucracy.
Promoting successes and a clear understanding of the specific issues facing an industry, and those who work in it, is essential. Spreading such information to other stewards and union members in that industry can have an electric effect.
The recruitment to the union and the election of shop stewards to confront and overcome problems in the workplace can be replicated in the entire industry.
At this moment in time the stewards movement is very weak. The most effective rank and file organisation has been in the building industry. The most high profile issue that they have been campaigning on for the last decade has been blacklisting. Without going into too much detail certain firms have been exposed for blacklisting union activists in the industry.
There was a campaign involving picketing high profile events, protests that have brought parts of central London to a standstill. Dìrect action that has resulted in widespread publicity.
Trade union bureaucracies were pressured into intervening. Massive compensation payments have been made following high court action. There is political pressure for a public inquiry to be held.
The point is that it is a fantastic example of what can be achieved if rank and file organisation can be built at a national level.
If a stewards rank and file organisation across unions can operate in the building industry why can't it be replicated elsewhere. In the security industry, in the NHS and social care, in retail, local authorities. There is no reason that such organisation cannot be built in any industry.
With social media and the advances in communication there is no reason why stewards and branch activists in any industry shouldn't be in touch with one another, the length and breadth of the country.
The issues facing a hospital worker in Edinburgh are fundamentally the same as those facing hospital workers in London. If the Edinburgh workers had adopted a particular tactic to confront and overcome a problem then simply informing their brothers and sisters in London helps them confront and overcome the problem.
The same principle applies in every town and city the length and breadth of the country.
Getting your own workplace organised has to be the number one priority. Helping to build a stewards network in your industry has to be the next.