Socialists and Trade Unions Day School. Photo: Counterfire Socialists and Trade Unions Day School. Photo: Counterfire

An invaluable discussion about the role of socialists in the labour movement and how to organise at workplace level, reports Yonas Makoni

Saturday’s Socialists and Trade Unions Day School assembled five speakers experienced in workplace organising to discuss the current conditions of the trade union struggle; its prospects, limitations, and what socialists can do to further it.

Kevin Ovenden and Unjum Mirza opened with a theory-based discussion focussed on the role of trade unions in working-class struggle. They emphasised the role of workplace struggles in the fundamental antagonism between capital and labour, and argued that left politics must focus on advancing the working-class side of this.

Socialists and the Trade Unions

✊ Socialists and the Trade Unions day school with Elaine Graham-Leigh, Kevin Ovenden, Unjum Mirza, Kate O’Neil, Elly Badcock, Feyzi Ismail and Richard Allday ⌚ 2pm – 3pm: Socialists, the unions and the rank and file ⌚ 3:15pm – 4:30pm: Organising in your workplace

Posted by Counterfire on Saturday, 25 July 2020

The second half explored the practical aspects of workplace organising. Kate O’Neill, Feyzi Ismail and Richard Allday discussed how to draw unionised workplaces towards more militant action, and how to establish collective struggle in unorganised and precarious workplaces.

Most impressive was the acuity with which the speakers understood not just the potential but also the limitations of the trade union movement and the consequent need for workers to politicise their demands. Richard and Unjum noted how trade union struggles can be inherently defensive and that politics is crucial to advancing the struggle beyond this. Feyzi raised another key point, that any individual demand must be universalised (e.g. a campaign against cuts in one sector must also assert its opposition to cuts in general).

The speakers’ expertise provided an extremely insightful and energising afternoon. While they advocated an understanding of the political role of class struggles to develop strategy, they also emphasised that anyone can get involved in workplace organising regardless of prior knowledge or experience. As Richard and Unjum noted, history has shown that it’s often workers who are considered unorganisable, especially those lowest in the social hierarchy, who are most crucial in advancing the struggle. This crisis will be weaponised against workers by employers and the government, but with a crisis comes opportunities to further the struggle, and workers must be prepared to take them.

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