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Submitted by Cautiously Pes… on Tue, 30/08/2016 - 22:34

In reply to by AWL

So, still working on a full response (I'm sure everyone's awaiting it with bated breath), but in the meantime:
Yeah, fair play on that first correction (for my part, I'll put my hands up and admit to not noticing the hyperlink in the Novara article, which definitely makes your assumption a lot more reasonable).
The point about how we define and use the word "new" still seems kind of abstract to me. Maybe if you can show what the actual specific lessons from New Unionism are that we can only learn from that period and will miss if we overemphasise novelty then I'll be more convinced. But still, in defence of that specific Novara article I think it is worth saying that (I'm pretty sure) on the afternoon of Thursday 25th it was announced that the strike was happening on Friday 26th, which meant people pretty much had a few hours to spread the word about it - under those circumstances I think it would've been fine to slap something up on Novara saying "this strike is happening tomorrow, here's where you need to go to support the workers, you can use your own brain to work out why it's important", but I can see why that might not have quite fitted their editorial guidelines. Still, I think under the circumstances it was always going to be a rush job.

On the unionised/non-unionised workers stuff: OK, let's agree to back up a moment and agree that you don't think we should ignore unorganised workers, and I don't think we should ignore unionised workers. But still, there's a definite difference of focus or priority here. You keep on throwing about the figure of there being six or seven million union members, and I agree, that's a big number, it's impressive, those people are important. But. It's harder to get figures for the proportion of non-union members, but based on the 2014 stats, I'd put it at about 19.2 million workers. That's a bigger number, so I can't help feeling they should be more of a focus. How are the existing unions going to rescue those 19.2 million people?
We could flip your example around: if members of your hypothetical GMB branch in Rotherham go out on an official GMB-organised strike and win, does that leave the workers at an unorganised call centre in Bolton any closer to having a recognised union presence in their workplace? We could go back and forth like this all day, but I don't know what's to be gained by it.

And considering how keen you are on precise terminology, are you using mass strikes in Luxemburg's sense there? They were undeniably very big strikes, and I'll admit it's been a long time since I read her on the subject, but I'm pretty sure the dynamic she described wasn't about people being led out for one day then going back to work while the union leaders negotiated a defeat.

But this is a side issue: the main point here is that the big public sector pensions disputes, as big as they are, were a sectoral dispute. For those of you who were or are employed in the public sector, sure, organising as a rank-and-file current in those disputes is a viable strategy. But for the great majority of workers who're employed in the private sector, it's not. Either we find some way of socialising/spreading those disputes out to the rest of us, or we're left as passive supporters at best, muttering about gold-plated pensions at worst.

The point here, at the risk of driving it into the ground, is that for the Deliveroo and UberEats workers, the choice of going "minority union" or working through the established TUC union with recognition deals with the food delivery companies was not an issue. That's not an aberration on their part, those are the conditions that most workers start off facing. The logic of your position seems to be to focus on the areas where most strikes happen, whereas to me - and this is especially so given the case seeing that you yourself mention that "[s]trike levels in 2015 were the lowest since records began" - it seems much more important to focus on the places where strikes aren't currently happening, all the places where class conflict is happening every day but lacks the collective strength to develop into any real challenge.

To flip your closing point, I agree that, in certain situations, TUC unions can play an important role and might be the most effective strategy. But if one's aspiration is not merely for the sparking of small pockets of struggle here and there (and mostly in the public sector), but the revolutionisation of the entire working class, one can hardly ignore the 75% of it currently outside of the TUC-affiliated unions.

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