Political trade unionism

Issue section: 

Michael Bradley’s article on political trade unionism (February SR) raised important issues about how socialists in workplaces and union branches can relate to current community political campaigns. He showed how and why campaigns can be brought into the workplace to help in the process of rebuilding rank and file confidence and organisation. This might then assist in building workplace resistance both to immediate employer attacks and against the wider Tory assault.

But the reverse is equally the case around the political campaigns. In the face of the ongoing neoliberal onslaught of recent years, defensive community campaigns have become an ever more significant part of public political activity. But to achieve real and lasting successes they should be better integrated with rank and file trade union bodies.

From Stop the War to Stop Trident, and from Keep Our NHS Public to the Campaign against Climate Change, local and national political campaigns are frequently supported by, but often organisationally separated from, trade union leaderships.

There is an urgent need for community activists to try to wrap the campaigns more closely around workplace groups and union branches. Public stalls, leafletting and public demonstrations are vital, but so are workplace initiatives to take the struggles forward. Community campaigns give public expression to the political concerns of individuals, who in numbers can create significant political pressure and shape “public opinion”. The best recent examples of this are the campaigns against the Iraq war and the bombing of Syria. But without any significant connection to the organised trade union movement, the campaigns can remain simply as “opinion”, subject to constant attacks from the Tory media and ignored by the state.

As Chris Newlove argued in “Students: detonators of struggle” (January SR), a thousand individual protesters can block a street, but a thousand bus and train drivers, for example, can block a city, hit the bosses in their pockets, and strike a deadly blow against the employers’ policies. We should be striving in community campaigns to shift the focus to this link with rank and file trade unionists.

John Clossick