Should communists be union reps?

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the button
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Jun 27 2006 14:39
everybody wrote:
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Lazy Riser
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Jun 27 2006 14:41

Hi

Quote:
Of course tha actual development of the class struggle and the production of revolutionary subjectivity vis a vis class struggle and self organisation isn't any worry to youse in the ICC, after all you signed the wonderful midfield general Deco Ince Theirry from FC Kautsky.

Genius. Post of the year.

Love

LR

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the button
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Jun 27 2006 14:45

It's the scent of something, alright. tongue

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the button
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Jun 27 2006 14:55

And a google image search for "superprole" reveals one image, and one image only........

grin

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madashell
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Jun 27 2006 16:06
revol68 wrote:
Deco Ince Theirry

It took me about half an hour before the penny dropped on this embarrassed

ftony
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Jun 27 2006 16:13

erm, there's a penny to drop...??

ftony
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Jun 27 2006 16:13

oh god, now i've got it embarrassed embarrassed embarrassed

knightrose
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Jun 27 2006 16:38

I've told this tale a number of times, but here goes again:

I was union rep at school for about three years.As unlike me a sit sounds, I agree with the ICC guys on this one. I found myself trying to balance between three different stools. On one hand to represent the other NUT members. Then I had to represent the NUT to the members. Fianlly, the heda wanted the unions to be his personnel department. We were always consulted and our opinions taken into account when decisions were being made.

It all came to a head when an NUT member at Oldham Sixth Form was sacked (for being an idiot, essentially.) Because she was an SWP member and incredibly irritating the NUT completely failed to represent or help her - in fact they ended up supporting her sacking. So I quit the rep's job.

Those problems are ones you will face as a steward. I say don't do it. It definitely does not stop you being a militant at work. It does not stop your fellow workers from listening to what you have to say. During the recent strikes, I was the one who insisted we have a picket line. I was one of the peoplke who went out leafletting the local community, explaining our dispute. So, not being a rep does not mean you have to sit on the sidelines. Being a rep can bring you into conflict with the interests of your workmates.

Mike Harman
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Jun 27 2006 16:53

Let's pretend this was an argument about standing in parliamentary or council elections:

Steve wrote:
Alf wrote:
NO: you explain in advance why it's all going to go wrong, based on decades of bitter experience. And not from the sidelines. Sitting or standing depends on the circumstances.

If you're not prepared to take part you are on the sidelines sitting (or standing) reading you little red books. Bit like religious fanatics.

Alf wrote:
Shop stewards are agents of the union, paid or not.

And unions are anti-working class. So you are saying I'm an agent of state? Twat.

roll eyes

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Jun 27 2006 17:00

Yeah catch, you have the wrong end of the stick....anyway

knightrose wrote:
I found myself trying to balance between three different stools. On one hand to represent the other NUT members. Then I had to represent the NUT to the members. Fianlly, the heda wanted the unions to be his personnel department. We were always consulted and our opinions taken into account when decisions were being made.

Why three stools?

Surely there is only one stool and thats to your work colleagues.

Steve
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Jun 27 2006 17:03
Catch wrote:
Let's pretend this was an argument about standing in parliamentary or council elections:

But we're not - idiot.

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Jun 27 2006 17:06
Catch wrote:
Let's pretend this was an argument about standing in parliamentary or council elections

That's hardly the same thing. What possible good could come out of standing in a parliamentary election?

Mike Harman
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Jun 27 2006 17:08
revol68 wrote:

Catch I hope your just taking the piss, cos if you can't see a world of difference between a shop stewards positon a electioneering you've either took a nasty knock to the brain or you should get your boiler checked for carbon monoxide levels.

I'm not saying they're the same thing, I'm saying his argument is the same, and equally strawman - equating organising in the (or a) union to organising at work as if they're inseperable.

Mike Harman
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Jun 27 2006 17:09
Steve wrote:
Catch wrote:
Let's pretend this was an argument about standing in parliamentary or council elections:

But we're not - idiot.

that's the third personal insult on this thread, you've been reminded already.

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Jun 27 2006 17:12
revol68 wrote:
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That's hardly the same thing. What possible good could come out of standing in a parliamentary election?

Libertarian Municipalism. grin

Quote:
What possible good

wink

knightrose
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Jun 27 2006 17:15

October lost wrote:

Quote:
Why three stools?

Surely there is only one stool and thats to your work colleagues.

I was trying to discuss the pressures I felt under. We are not immune to them. The reason I quit was because I could feel the pressure from the other two.

Mike Harman
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Jun 27 2006 17:26

OK typinh one-handed - will get back on this - analogy was lazy but I'll post why I think it was justified a bit later.

My own views - I don't think it's a priori bad to do it, but I also don't see particular benefits either to outweigh the obvious negatives that couldn't be achived by being well organised/connected informally and avoiding the institutional pitfalls at the same time.

Battlescarred
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Jun 27 2006 17:27

Pressure from stools? I suggest Ex-Lax

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JoeMaguire
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Jun 27 2006 17:40
knightrose wrote:
October lost wrote:
Quote:
Why three stools?

Surely there is only one stool and thats to your work colleagues.

I was trying to discuss the pressures I felt under. We are not immune to them. The reason I quit was because I could feel the pressure from the other two.

Knightrose, the point is to expose those pressures to all and sundry, and only then when we have exposed that unions are limited in the way in which many ordinary people think they are and when people have first hand accounts of back-room deals etc, we then put forward suggestions on how workers should organise.

But you cant do this without at least exhausting the union possibility, of course theyre should be different responses according to peoples own experiences but you should work with whats left.

Mike Harman
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Jun 27 2006 17:53

edit: two hands at last!

OK. The analogy.

Quote:
Or sit on the sidelines and explain why it all went wrong afterwards (Giving a link to a website of course)
Quote:

If you're not prepared to take part you are on the sidelines sitting (or standing) reading you little red books. Bit like religious fanatics.

Quote:
All I'm hearing is how we shouldn't organise in the workplace or that we shouldn't organise at all. I don't see any alternatives being put forward by 'communists'. As far as I'm concerned anyone who is against workplace organisation is 'objectively' Razz pro-bosses and anti-working class.

here we go. If you're not prepared to be a union rep you're "sitting on the sidelines" and "a religious fanatic". And if you're against organising within the unions then you're against workplace organisation altogether. I don't see how these statements can be read differently. Considering there's no functioning anarcho-syndicalist or syndicalist union that anyone could be a rep for in the UK, Steve is also talking about TUC unions (inc. I assume, Unison, USDAW and other showers of shite).

Suggesting that you can't organise at the workplace unless you're a) a member of and b) the shop steward for whatever union happens to be there, is, to me, exactly the same line of argument that liberals take when they say you can't take political action unless you're prepared to work democratically. There are good arguments against saying 100% no participation, but these aren't them.

I think Knightrose gave pretty good pragmatic reasons why not to do it, also in the 'tips' it was made pretty clear that most of your workload will be individual casework on legalistic wrangles over staff disciplinary procedures (like sickness absence.) - I can see how that would draw you into weighing the interests of various "stools", and almost certainly cut down the amount of time you had for actual collective organisation.

From my own experience, the rep at my work sent precisely one e-mail out to people the whole first year I was there. And when I went to see him, for the first time with my application form (still not processed) - after having to ask sevearal people 1. if there was a rep at all 2. who it was and 3. where - I was given three pieces of information.

1. That management would be more reticent about fucking you over if you had the union lawyers behind you

2. That there were no meetings (let alone branch) at the job and everything was handled by another workplace in the same sector in the same borough but with no actual links

3. That he wouldn't be on strike the next day (the national local government pensions strike) because there weren't enough members

4. That he wouldn't actively try to recruit anyone (in practice this means not telling anyone he or the union existed at all).

Essentially, absolutely fuck all to offer except some personal legal services, nothing at all about collective action or workplace organisation, in fact ruling it out completely.

I wouldn't say you should never do it in practice, I'm sure someone might have some positive experiences of it, and I'm sure Knightrose (and Baboon) learned loads about employment law and other stuff in the process. But, if there are alternatives to being a rep, then I think those should be explored first. I know I give more advice about basic employment law, health and safety legislation, occasionally look over people's contracts for them at my work than the rep does to the people I work with. And I'm one of only two people who ever talks about defending conditions collectively and beng prepared to take action if/when it comes to it.

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Jun 27 2006 18:32

I think it's a bit pointless trying to paint everyone who has suggested that unions aren't simply counterproductive as users of the ad hominem attack, I personally haven't once suggested you sit on the sidelines or are a religious fanatic. And no-one has suggested that you shouldn't organise outside in your workplace where possible, let alone saying you have to be shop steward. The question was whether the postion was worth it.

Quote:
I can see how that would draw you into weighing the interests of various "stools

You sure you're not just finding a justification for a pre-set position here? Cos it sounds like you are. As is said elsewhere, it's your choice whether you push the union line or not, personally I'd see my role as much to be fighting the union as the bosses, should I have to - but hopefully with one less person to potentially get in the way. If I get kicked out of the spot for being trouble, it'll do the syndicalist cause no harm at all.

Quote:
From my own experience

On the other hand, personally I had some really positive experiences with my first rep, who was enthusiastic about organising, actively recruited (and not just on a 'it must be union' basis), helped people out and generally was a great help to me and others. The one who has followed him has been taciturn, hasn't told people what's going on, barely responds to me badgering him etc.

Steve
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Jun 27 2006 18:36

You are rephrasing what I said. This thread is about whether or not communists (sic) should be shop stewards. What I’m against is the so called leading lights critiquing those active in the workplace while not either being prepared to do anything themselves or to suggest worthwhile or realistic alternatives. I could sit back and explain what went wrong without having to stick my neck out, that’s easy.

You don’t have to be a member of a union to organise in the workplace but again as this thread was about being a member of a union or not - that is where I started from. You certainly don’t have to be the shop steward to be active, no where did I say that.

As for anarcho-syndicalist unions, if you knew anything about them you’d know they don’t have reps anyway, they have mandated delegates.

You moan about your own experience of reformist unions and a bad union rep. A good shop steward will organise workplace meetings and keep the members informed and can often give workers the confidence to act. Militancy doesn’t come from nowhere and often one committed person can help spark something off.

All this is not the same as standing in elections as what I’m saying (again) is that we can work within but beyond the union structures. If you read the SolFed industrial strategy that lays it out pretty clearly

Quote:
Mass meetings should be seen as an alternative structure to official union structures that are dominated by full-time bureaucrats. Decisions are made collectively in these assemblies. The work of these assemblies in different workplaces should be co-ordinated by delegate councils.

In the most militants workforces regular mass meetings will be held and this is obviously the ideal we are aiming at. This may not be possible in other workplaces where it will only be possible to organise such meetings when a dispute arises.

We need a three-pronged approach to the business of actually setting up an independent organisation at work.

1. In a workplace with a recognised TUC union, an SF member would join the union but promote an anarcho-syndicalist strategy. This would involve organising workplace assemblies to make collective decisions on workplace issues. However, workers will still be likely to hold union cards here to avoid splits in the workplace between union members and non-union members.

2. In a non-unionised workplace, independent unions, based on the principle of collective decision-making, should be set up wherever possible.

3. In a non-unionised workplace, that is difficult to organise due to a high turnover of staff or a large number of temps, we should just call workers assemblies when a dispute arises.

http://libcom.org/hosted/sf/strategy.htm Hey look a link! tongue

Mike Harman
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Jun 27 2006 20:15
Saii wrote:
I think it's a bit pointless trying to paint everyone who has suggested that unions aren't simply counterproductive as users of the ad hominem attack, I personally haven't once suggested you sit on the sidelines or are a religious fanatic.

I was responding to steve, not to you. I already said I don't think it's a priori bad to be a shop steward, I'm just not sure if it's worth it, and don't have experience of doing it or for that matter dealing with shop stewards because all my workplaces so far have not had visible unions.

Quote:

let alone saying you have to be shop steward.

I'd suggest you read Steve's posts again.

Quote:

You sure you're not just finding a justification for a pre-set position here?

No I don't think so. If you spend a load of time doing personal advocacy, often the only way to get results will be through legal channels - grievances, tribunals, technicalities of disciplinary procedures. It's important stuff, but it'd be easy to get caught up with that to the exclusion of anything else, whereas if you're just at work and don't have the responsibilities of a reps position then you'd not be obliged to do that all the time.

Quote:

On the other hand, personally I had some really positive experiences with my first rep, who was enthusiastic about organising, actively recruited (and not just on a 'it must be union' basis), helped people out and generally was a great help to me and others. The one who has followed him has been taciturn, hasn't told people what's going on, barely responds to me badgering him etc.

Yeah, individuals are different, but I try to do two things - draw from my own experience, and that of others. My own experience of unions is uniformly negative, a lot of others is negative as well - both currently and historically.

Mike Harman
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Jun 27 2006 20:34
Steve wrote:
You are rephrasing what I said. This thread is about whether or not communists (sic) should be shop stewards. What I’m against is the so called leading lights critiquing those active in the workplace while not either being prepared to do anything themselves or to suggest worthwhile or realistic alternatives. I could sit back and explain what went wrong without having to stick my neck out, that’s easy.

No. I quoted directly, especially in my last post.

Alf wrote:
Because whatever your good intentions may be, you end up selling the union line to the 'members' and acting as a barrier to workers organising themselves. This may not be apparent in times of apathy when the 'activists' are the only ones involved in keeping the union going, but it will become clear when the struggle breaks out of the daily routine and workers dare to take things into their own hands. Then you're faced with the choice: go with the union and oppose the struggle, which will necessarily break the union rules, or give up being a union rep and go with the workers. So why put yourself in that position in the first place?
steve wrote:

Or sit on the sidelines and explain why it all went wrong afterwards (Giving a link to a website of course)

Alf gives some reasons why you shouldn't be a union rep (union membership in itself wasn't mentioned), then you say "sit on the sidelines".

Quote:

You don’t have to be a member of a union to organise in the workplace but again as this thread was about being a member of a union or not - that is where I started from. You certainly don’t have to be the shop steward to be active, no where did I say that.

That's what it looked like, and certainly you implied that being outside the union membership was sitting on the sidelines. If that's not what you meant then fine, but I'd consider phrasing your posts a bit more carefullly in your rush to attack people or you risk being misunderstood regularly.

Quote:

You moan about your own experience of reformist unions and a bad union rep. A good shop steward will organise workplace meetings and keep the members informed and can often give workers the confidence to act. Militancy doesn’t come from nowhere and often one committed person can help spark something off.

All well and good, however to continue moaning, when there is a rep who's inactive, other people who might be interested in sorting something out (inside or outside) can be hesitant to avoid stepping on their toes. Not me, but I've had this come up a couple of times now at work.

I'll try to read through the industrial strategy properly later on.

Deezer
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Jul 5 2006 08:06

Yeah communists, libertarian communists and anarcho-syndicalists should be shop stewards. Some seem to think we can't be clear that we see our role as one of delegate representing the workers who have elected us, I certainly didn't get myself into the position of representing the union hierarchy back to my fellow workers when I was a shop steward.

How are we going to gain any amount of credibility or support for our ideas if we are not actually involved in the day to day struggles of our fellow workers - and I'm sorry but that, in many unionised workplaces, means getting involved in the trades unions at this point in time. Yes we need to be able to move beyond them but in order to do that we need to be able to be regarded as the sort of people you would trust in a fight - not the nyah told ya so ultra purist shite that some seem to believe will benefit workers in struggle.

I do believe that ultimately the trades unions need to be broken from and something much better established to replace them but I also reckon that such developments will come about as a result of the contradictions in the labour movement and its inability and refusal to adequately represent the interests of working people. If we aren't in we aren't involved in the process most likely to lead to the development of a more revolutionary form of workplace organisation. We'll be the loony lefties sitting on the outside looking in for ever and a day.

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Jul 5 2006 09:27
Catch wrote:
I'm not saying they're the same thing, I'm saying his argument is the same, and equally strawman - equating organising in the (or a) union to organising at work as if they're inseperable.

I didn't get the original analoy but I agree with this.

I think that using union resouces etc to encourage working class activity is a good thing, I can't see why you'd argue against that. We can't rely on unions as they exist now to defend our interests, but we can use their resources. For example I'd like to have the free legal aid offered by many unions, I'd also be happy to get free photocopying access to email lists. People will listen to you more because they can engage with the idea of a union, it is up to you to explain the limits of that. Being involved in a union does not preclude activity definitively as far as I can tell. Unions jumps when told to jump, they'll happily sell you out but they can't without workers letting them. In France the unions threw their weight behind the anti-CPE stuff, largely because they were left behind, by the end of the struggle they were sounding very militant, and it was actually the drop off in grass roots activity that ended the struggle early.

I think the first thing that you can do as a shop steward is organise a meeting, most people will come if there is coffee and biscuits (provided by the union) and they can kill an hour or so there. They might even listen to you. Once it is established that you will help people they will come to you for advice.

Being a permanent paid representative is an anti-working class position, being a shop steward is not as long as you act in the interests of your colleagues and not the union leadership. Unions are only anti-working class because they have allowed their leaderships to be bought and their actions to be restricted by law.

I think the problems wil often come down to personal issues

For example I'd be annoyed about having to defend someone that is always pulling sickies because they make more work for everyone else. Or if someone gets a promotion and suddenly is on a different side.

Deezer
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Jul 5 2006 09:56
Quote:
For example I'd be annoyed about having to defend someone that is always pulling sickies because they make more work for everyone else. Or if someone gets a promotion and suddenly is on a different side.

See, I don't really mind that so much, remember work makes us all sick at times. Though there is precious little you can do outside of whatever agreements exist - unless of course its symptomatic of broader problems in the workplace - then getting together with yer fellow workers to organise a more appropriate response would be the way to deal with things.

How about helping save some fellow worker their job on more than one occassion, they go on to be elected as a shop steward (with numbnut here seconding their nomination) and mid-way through important negotiations they get promoted (while still on an unheard of length of probation) and the next week they're sitting on the management side of the table eek

If I'd been psychic I'd have let the bastards sack this bastard, but I wasn't roll eyes

Some fucks do need fuckin' shot eek

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Jul 5 2006 12:38
Quote:
Some seem to think we can't be clear that we see our role as one of delegate representing the workers who have elected us, I certainly didn't get myself into the position of representing the union hierarchy back to my fellow workers when I was a shop steward.

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Devrim
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Jul 5 2006 22:30

Steve, I will come back to this later, but I would just like to say that most of the people who are left communists who post here were at some time in the past trade union officials. I myself was a UCW branch committee member in London. It is not that these people 'sit on the sidelines and explain why it all went wrong afterwards', (after I had resigned my position, I was actively involved in the 1989 strike as those comrades still around from the P.O then will testify and as others in SolFed (for example Matinh on here) will remember), it is that they think that having an official union position acts against their involvement in the class struggle.

I think that your attitude on this thread, and particularly in reply to catch's point has been rude, and insulting, and that it neither facilitates discussion nor in fact helps your arguments.

Best wishes,

Devrim

Steve
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Jul 5 2006 23:14

I think I should have followed my own advice on the 'tips' thread.

Steve 27 June wrote:
I wouldn't say that but I'm in a foul mood today and need a holiday (going in 10 days! smile ) and shouldn't really get involved. I think I should confine myself to posting about practical stuff on here. :wink:

I still think that anarcho-syndicalists should consider the situation they find themselves in and decide whether to become a union rep/shop steward. There is no hard and fast rule.

As for left communists it's obvious that you shouldn't.

All the best,

Steve