Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/714/14350
Changing the trade unions into combative organisations
To win change in society workers need audacity, determination and organisation. A London bus worker writes that often you need to start by transforming your own union branch.
Now is the best opportunity in a generation to begin to transform London bus workers into an active, fighting section of the Unite union that stands up for our members. There are forthcoming ballots in each operating company in London over industrial action.
Also, Unite will be holding branch elections in each garage over the next few months.
All garages can do with new life among active members. Many need transforming completely. New activists should show workmates they are serious by pushing for a good result in the ballots.
We should make sure all members understand that a taste of action - or even the threat - can begin to build confidence that our union is no longer 'too close to the bosses'.
Big companies like Arriva, Go-Ahead, First and Stagecoach take the lion's share of the hundreds of millions of pounds of public money TfL hands out in subsidies to the capital's bus operators every year. While they prosper, they expect us to show "restraint" in these hard times (for some).
Often I hear workers at my garage say, "Why don't we join the RMT?" which is widely seen as a better, more militant union in support of tube workers. I argue that apart from Unite having negotiating rights under TUC rules, it's better to keep London bus workers in the same union and fight to change it. However, some officials take an unsympathetic and frankly bureaucratic attitude to such workers.
Unite's general secretary, Len McCluskey is nearer the mark when he says the only way to deal with such frustration among members is to prove Unite is the best defender of bus workers' interests.
Some among the union tops seem to have realised at last the huge potential asset London bus workers represent. A strong London bus union would be a shining example to all workers nationally, like Bob Crow and the RMT at the moment.
Unite is encouraging its more fighting members to become reps and convenors and take a lead in the garages.
But it is difficult to reverse decades of bad leadership. Real change can only come from the members. And with real change we should aim to work more closely with workers in other fighting transport unions. Unity is strength.
A garage rep is only as strong as the membership. The biggest problem is usually lack of participation in the branch. If you've got a useless rep in your garage, remember they may have been the only one prepared to have a go at changing things when they first stood for the position.
Once elected they probably felt isolated against an experienced management team and at best got inadequate support from the union hierarchy.
Many good reps ended up like this. They can easily become resentful towards members and, if not removed, a serious obstacle to the branch. The lesson is: involve others, you can't change everything on your own!
So what's the best way to change your union branch? Have a go! Don't just grumble to your workmates, plan to stand in the upcoming elections. Get yourself known as the best supporter of a 'Yes' vote in the forthcoming ballot.
You need a team. Not just branch officers but a committee to help keep in touch with all the members, produce newsletters and encourage a thriving monthly branch meeting.
Hopefully, you won't need to declare war on all existing members of the union hierarchy. Find those you can work with. You learn through mistakes and experience. For the most reliable help, contact your local Socialist Party branch!
In The Socialist 18 April 2012:
Socialist Party news and analysis
Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition
Socialist Party workplace news
Socialist Party reports and campaigns
International socialist news and analysis
Reviews and Comment