While union organisation in the workplace and in industry is clearly the priority, organising at a union branch level is also of vital importance.
Branches are the foundation stone of a union from which a solid apparatus that is genuinely membership led can be built. Without solid foundations the whole edifice is unstable and open to corruption and abuse.
Every trade union member should be in a branch. Every branch should meet regularly and every member of the branch should be aware of this and the fact that they are entitled to attend.
Branches need elected officers to run them. Usually a secretary, chair, treasurer and equality officer.
Branch business will cover union activity in the area, information from the unions regional and head office. Importantly it has the ability to send delegates and resolutions to internal bodies of the union and the wider Labour movement locally.
So the branch would be entitled to put someone forward for the elections to the national executive committee of the union. Or send a delegate to regional bodies or a trade group. The rules of each union will vary. A branch should also be able to send delegates to local Labour parties and trades council's. Although in some unions this power has been taken from the branch and is organised at a regional level. In the most corrupt way by the right wing trade union bureaucracies.
Back to the role of union branches at a local or an industry level. Proactive branches tend to have a sobering effect on the behaviour of some full-time officials.
A regional officer operating in an area, or in an industry where there are a number of active branches, conscious of what their role is and what it should be, conscious of what is going on at a workplace level, can hold an officer to account. The official will be anxious that the members they are supposed be covering are being properly represented. Reports from angry branches to region do not look good on our appointed officers, who view the senior regional official as their, ' line management '.
A lack of branch activity and/or a preponderance of passive branches means that full time employees has a far easier life and are less accountable.
Unfortunately with the decline of genuine unionism over the last few generations and the bureaucratic degeneration of the union apparatus union members have become less active. The rise of corporate trade unionism has gone hand in hand with the fact that many union branches have withered and died.
Some union branches still struggle on with a handful of veterans battling heroically to keep some sort of rank and file trade unionism alive. Many union branches exist in name only and do not function at all. The full time officers are responsible for such branches.
In a few cases genuine union activists are struggling and succeeding in keeping a union branch going.
It can be very hard work at times. It can be very demoralizing work, if for example there is a poor turnout for the branch meeting or there appears to be no relevant function for the branch.
However next to union organisation in the workplace and at an industry level, organisation of the branches will be the most vital part in the rebirth of genuine unionism.
Next to the role of the stewards in the workplace and at an industry level, the role of the branch and the branch officers is the most important arena for rank and file activists to work in.