Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/777/17303
The role of a workers' rep
The excellent interview with Glynn Doherty (Socialist 776) showed a week of activity representing members, whether at employment tribunals, directly with the employer or running a "drop in centre" for members.
Things are different today for a trade union rep compared to my day back in the 1970s and 1980s. The balance of forces in the workplace was more on the workers' side then.
The numbers in trade unions have halved but also the ordinary worker's confidence is much less than it was.
Nupe, a founder union that merged with others to become Unison later on, grew from 60,000 in 1970 to 600,000 by the end of the decade.
Nupe organised the lowest paid workers in the NHS, councils and the public sector in general.
The Thatcher government's main purpose in 1979 was to reduce the organised working class's power which she did through de-industrialisation, anti-union laws and right-wing Labour and union leaders who abdicated responsibility for what was happening,
As industry became far smaller, the number of big workplaces dramatically declined. In the past the big manufacturing workplaces set the pace which other workers followed.
Certainly low-paid unorganised sections of the working class got the confidence to organise and take strike action from what was happening in industry.
The role of a workplace rep then was different. Crucially, shop stewards in general in the bigger, well organised workplaces, such as the car industry, engineering, mines, the docks, etc, were elected and accountable to the shop floor, and subject to recall at any time.
Their workmates looked to them to oppose the bosses' attacks. The reps knew they could call on their members to take action to defend their interests if needed.
The workplace was the centre of activity. Strong shop stewards committees meant there could be collective action if the bosses attacked workers, including individual workers.
The involvement of full-time officials was seen as a last resort. It was by strike action, often "unofficial," that most gains were made.
The modern rep deals mainly with individual cases. Forward looking representatives, like Glynn, see the rep's real role as preparing their members for collective action.
Workers themselves will gain the confidence to do so, as the bosses are sitting on dynamite and will be made to pay the cost.
In The Socialist 28 August 2013:
Socialist Party news and analysis
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party feature
'Youth Fight for Jobs' campaigning
Socialist Party workplace news
Socialist Party reports and campaigns
Socialist Party reviews