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Editorial: organise the rank and file

Over the past year or two the failure of the union leaders – left as well as right – to call the escalating and united action they have promised at the TUC and union conferences, and the catastrophic retreat without a fight at Grangemouth, underline the importance of not relying on, or waiting for these leaders.

Of course we should continue to support any union leader that organises or supports militancy – like the local government strike on 15 October, the NHS action later in the month or the Bakers’ Union unionising fast food outlet workers in the fight for the living wage – but the problem of bureaucratic misleadership remains.

On the other hand, though small in scale, actions by grassroots unionists –the Hovis bakers, the Tres Cosas migrant workers or the Ritzy cinema employees – indicate that initiatives by the rank and file and appeals for support from students, communities etc. are possible and can win. The fact that Jerry Hicks has repeatedly and increasingly scored 20-36% in Unite General Secretary election campaigns, and attempts have been made to organise rank and file groupings in their wake is also encouraging.

Though various national campaigns and bodies from Unite the Resistance to the Peoples Assembly have held big rallies, they all have been top table speech-making events for the union leaders and assorted celebrities – thoroughly top down affairs.

While we don’t need another such another campaign, it is high time rank and file trade unionists got together, without platform speakers, for an open and wide-ranging discussion on what are the things holding back effective trade unionism and workplace organisation today.

We need to discuss how we can organise together across the unions and within each union, in the workplaces and communities; how we can give solidarity to one another’s struggles, support union activists victimised by management or the union officialdom; how we can learn from one another the best practices and tactics; how we can set about unionising the unorganised and fighting to democratise and transform the unions.

We have therefore set up a campaign to organise a national meeting of rank and file trade unionists, a forum to begin such a discussion.

The meeting will be held in the Indian YMCA, Fitzroy Street, London W1 (near Warren Street tube) on 8 November.

Support

After just a few weeks of starting, we have gained support for the idea. The Sparks – the militant electricians in the construction industry – ran out of time at their AGM to fully discuss the proposal, however 20 activists, including blacklisted members, signed up.

A national meeting of public sector trade unionists in Left Unity also agreed to support the campaign and a dozen prominent individuals joined on the spot.

Jerry Hicks, the Unite convenor who was victimised by Rolls Royce in Filton, near Bristol, has also enthusiastically lent his support. We hope that this will lead to further activists from his election campaigns and the Grassroots Left which we helped set up with Jerry’s support getting involved.

The aim is to establish a coordinating committee, open to anyone who agrees with the basic aim of the campaign, which could meet in early October to agree an agenda and discuss how to spread the word, e.g. by leafleting strikes and the TUC demo on 18 October.

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