I'd be interested to hear any comments or ideas on this, so contributions to this discussion are most welcome. I'd also be particularly interested to hear (confidentiality and security permitting) from any sparks on how they managed to build things up within their industry to the extent that they've been able to carry out actions which have flown in the face of the anti-union laws and the official Trade Union 'wisdom' of not rocking the boat.
Anyway, in building a rank and file movement, it seems to me that we need to be covering as many bases as possible: in our workplaces, in union branches, Trades Councils, regionally, locally...
I'm aware of the following rank and file groupings:
If anyone knows of any more, please add them to this.
More general, there's also the NSSN, Broad Left, Left Unity, Grassroots rank and file (have I missed anyone else?) which, to one degree or another, seem to be under the influence of one or the other left political group or party (if I'm mistaken here, please correct me). In at least one case, a rank and file grouping has become a political battleground between warring leftist parties after control of the organisation. Call me simple but what this has to do with building a viable rank and file movement is beyond me. If political control over what's supposed to be a rank and file workers organisation is the best some organisations on the left can do, then we're seriously better off without them.
It's possible that this desire for political control is the key to our lack of success when building from below and part of the reason there's currently no influential rank and file movement in the UK.
Rank and file a means to an end - installing tomorrow's bureaucrats?
Part of the problem is any rank and file movement that shoves its head above the parapet is immediately seen as a means of building a political base. The movement or network is seen as a mere slatebuilding tool which allows those from one or another left party to build support for their prospective candidates in union elections. Again, what this has to do with building a viable rank and file movement is beyond me. I can't count the number of 'lefts' who have become bureaucrats on the backs of some 'rank and file' network they've used. Equally, I can't count the number of bureaucrats promoted from the 'rank and file' who've gone on to have zero interest in building real rank and file initiatives*. Probably because it's not actually in the bureaucrat job spec and the election of our 'comrade' is essentially seen as job done for us poor rank and filers. Needless to say, this is all a tad off-putting for those of us who have no interest in this or that party and just want to get on with trying to empower ourselves and those we work with and linking up with other workers from our and other industries to fight more effectively.
* Unless you count those 'rank and file' organisations whose committees seem to consist of a fair few union full timers and even General Secretaries... but then, isn't that stretching the definition of a rank and file organisation just a bit?
A local example
I'll talk a bit now about what we've been doing in Leicester.
Prior to the big N30 public sector strike, a few of us here were thinking that
So, what we did in Leicester was produce about 1000 flyers advertising a local rank and file meeting on 1st December and distributed these on the local N30 march and on picket lines. We publicised it further on a couple of local leftist email lists and notified former members of the now defunct IWW local. We also communicated with comrades on the Trades Council who are very sympathetic to what we want to achieve.
Considering it was such short notice, the December 1st meeting was not too badly attended (about 15-18 of us) by mostly public sector workers, a couple of unwaged and a couple of people from Occupy Leicester. It was decided by those at the meeting to launch Leicestershire Solidarity Group to fulfill a wider role locally (rank and file and other class struggle issues - e.g. claimants, etc).
The solidarity group has now called for a second rank and file meeting which will take place on Thursday 11 January. This will be a planning meeting in preparation for an eventual larger Leicestershire-wide rank and file conference. What this conference will be able to achieve will depend on those who participate in it.
Follow this example?
It's my suggestion that comrades should try and achieve something similar to what's happening in Leicester in their own localities, or at least discuss what is achievable in your respective areas. From there, we should aim to link up any local rank and file initiatives.
What's vital though, it that we:
Sorry if this has all been a bit rambling. Anything you think I've got wrong or muddled, please let me know. Comments appreciated.
Hey Serge, thanks for starting this discussion.
- Bus Worker is known as a SWP 'front'.
There is also Unite GrassRootsLeft, could be interesting if it is not a campaign to get Jerry Hicks re-elected.
I was in the process of writing a small blog post around this topic myself.
The Leicestershire Solidarity Group sounds interesting, although I would also add that no member of the group can have hiring and firing power at work and that these rank and file groups cannot be 'permanent bodies' as this is what unions are and is part of the reason that they are so co-opted.
Although I guess our aim is for a 'rank-and-file' group/movement which spans across workplaces, unions and sectors I guess this is very hard (like you didn't already know that). I recently started working in a traditionally militant sector but with the defeats the working class has suffered it has become less so. Many people at work are in the union but branch meetings have been 'cancelled' for months on end. So I have not been able to attend a branch meeting since I started work and cannot come into contact with workers who have even elementary class consciousness.
You say we should not be a political party, fair enough. But do we not want to help spread political ideas? The IWW is 'non-political' although many of their members are anarchist, we are not just militants we are communists who want to wage a war against work.
Also, how could we prevent political maneuvering?
I like your emphasis that a rank and file group should not be an electoral machine.
Hope some of that was interesting, hope to continue the discussion.
Cheers for the heads up on Busworker. I dunno much about GRL but hope there's more to them than electioneering.
Yes, I agree with you about hiring or firing in general, however I'm not sure we should always be so cut and dried about it, given that hiring and firing is increasingly being delegated down to workers who in reality have zero power. Imagine a situation where you had a shit hot workers organisation and management kyboshed it by singling out the most active militants and adding 'participate in interview panels' on their job spec :D
On difficulties about building anything at work these days, let's face it, after years of class defeat after defeat and the treachery or open collaboration from unions, we're starting from scratch here. But no one said it'd be easy fella ;)
I'm an IWW member by the way, and while there are a fair few anarchist or libertarian communist members (myself included), they are certainly not in the majority, nor is the IWW ideologically anarchist. I'm all for little 'p' (and Big 'P') political ideas being spread among the class but think that for any workers' group to have big 'P' political alignment with any one party, group or single ideology would be divisive, exclusionary and counter-productive.
There's no 100% guarantee against political maneuvering in any organisation but a culture of extreme vigilance would need to be inbuilt in any workers' group. Also, a system of mandated and immediately recallable delegates would make it far more difficult to 'take over' such an organisation... admittedly, it'd still not be not impossible but it wouldn't be worth the mither for yer 'pinkie and the brain' type politicos.