Devon Wobbly Success

An article from Black Flag #215.

Submitted by Fozzie on July 30, 2020

IWW Organising

On 20th August I got a call from Mark Harper to say that he had quit his job 3 seconds before being fired. He said it was a spur of the moment thing.

I drove over to Wrafton, a village on the edge of Barnstaple on the coast of rural north Devon ahead of the meeting and talked with Mark.

We arrived at the church hall just before 4 p.m. to be met by fws Veronica Clanchy and Ray Carr from the South Coast, and also met the President of the local trades council who had been giving Mark some support but who turned up to the meeting with the intention of recruiting to TUC affiliated unions (he had already been to IWW members homes to persuade them to join TUC unions rather than the IWW). Just before the meeting was about to start there was a bit of a commotion outside - we had the spectre of the factory owner (and local Conservative Party big wig) and his personnel officer seeking entry to the meeting. We told them they were not welcome to attend a private workers' meeting and escorted them from the premises. (No violence or restraint techniques were used). However they hung around the hall and this stopped a number of workers from coming to the meeting out of a sense of fear. We decided to turn the screws on them by photographing their pathetic attempts to bust our union.

When I told the meeting what had happened I got a cheer and applause! Not something I am used in an IWW meeting. Anyway there were 40 workers at the meeting despite Mark's dismissal making advertising difficult.

The TUC rep went first saying how important it was for workers to be in unions so that they could get individual legal representation and support in the event of an accident. He went on to say that the workers should join one of three unions MSF (Manufacturing Science and Finance - a supervisors union), AEEU (Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union - skilled maintenance workers) and TGWU (Transport and General Workers - for production workers). He said that being in an affiliated union was very important, but didn't say why and then said that the IWW offered some opposition to the TUC. First thing I did was point out the absurdity of the workers in one factory being split into three unions. I then explained how the IWW was indeed different from the TUC in respect of membership control, cheaper dues, with half remaining with the local branch, no political affiliation, all three TUC unions are affiliated to the governing party, no paid officers, with volunteers carrying out all the work of the union, including negotiations, individual representation, and taking cases to industrial tribunals no insurance and benefits how we were based on industrial unionism, transnational, and mentioned our organising efforts in the US, Canada, Australia, Germany, etc, and that we believed that bosses and workers had nothing in common. I asked a couple of times if the workers controlled their own factory would they run it like it was run?

I also said that as a union we would not abide by this country's crushing anti union laws and that if members wanted to break the law collectively that is what we would do.

There followed a lively question and answer session and the meeting finally broke up after an hour. Everybody there took an application form and many took multiples to distribute around the plant. A couple of workers came to the meeting on their day off and some had travelled many miles to get there.

We agreed to organise a training course for those who wanted to become union delegates and shop stewards. A couple after the main meeting and said that there had been a slow down in the plant after Mark's termination and, rather than put people off they had been galvanised.

We waited till 6.30 just in case any night shift workers wanted in but no one else came, however it transpired that someone had been signing up twilight and night shift workers anyway.

The next day Mark phoned with some good news. The workers had decided collectively to go IWW - They will become the Wrafton Pharmaceuticals branch of the Chemical and Pharmaceuticals Industrial Union 430. They have elected delegates to get things going and are already working on a set of demands to put before the boss. The first is outright recognition and they want to get membership up to 50% (200 workers) quickly. They have pages of grievances and at the moment seem very buoyant.

A very successful time was had by all and it certainly has given me a lot of inspiration for the future. If nothing else it proves that we have the right message and can organise even where there is TUC opposition.

Why am I so surprised that we can be this successful? I don't know. I read over the weekend that only one in five UK workers in the private sector were unionised and that the trade unions were having a hell of a lot of trouble convincing workers of their relevance. Having seen the TUC presentation I can see why. Maybe just maybe we are on the verge of something good.

Kevin Brandstatter IWW -UK

Send solidarity greetings to: Mark Harper 17 Barn Park, Wrafton, near Barnstaple, Devon EX33