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New steps towards rank and file organisation in Unite


By Marcus Halaby

A new rank and file grouping in Britain’s largest and most important trade union, Unite, will be founded by a conference to be held in February or March next year.

This was decided by a constructive meeting of Unite members in the SWP and the Grassroots Left, with observers from Workers Power and the International Socialist Network present.

A 70-strong national meeting back in May, held in the aftermath of Jerry Hick’s election campaign, had elected a steering committee, but this was the first time it had actually met. Despite the delay and obvious frustration at the slow pace, there is now a sense of purpose to the project.

The recent betrayal of the 1,400-strong workforce at Grangemouth injected a degree of seriousness and urgency, with the meeting agreeing to launch a nationwide speaking tour by Jerry Hicks entitled: “Where now for the unions after Grangemouth?”

The meeting also agreed to change the name to “Unite Grass Roots Rank & File”, and to publicise Hicks’ speaking tour at the Unite sector conferences in November.

There is every possibility that that this tour could draw hundreds of trade union militants, mainly but not only in Unite, who are looking for answers in the current climate.

Despite recent retreats, there are and will continue to be dozens of disputes up and down the country, with workers taking some confidence from the limited economic recovery and eager to make sure they claw back at least some of what they lost in the recession.

On the other hand, some bosses will attempt to “do a Ratcliffe” and use the recovery as an excuse to restructure their workforces, tying new investment to demands for further give-backs. In public services, where Unite has tens of thousands of members – in the NHS, on the buses, in local authorities, etc. – still face year-on-year austerity.

With the “left” bureaucrats being exposed as having little to offer beyond the occasional one-day strike, there could be a lot of interest in a real rank and file alternative.

Now is the time to relaunch Unite Grassroots Rank & File – and to emulate it in other unions, especially Unison and the GMB. The task of transforming the unions cannot be completed in one union alone but requires the cross-fertilisation of experience and ideas across the unions and their unity in action.

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