letter: Making trouble in the UK?

Submitted by Newcastle on 16 July, 2009 - 9:06 Author: Sheila Cohen

Sometimes great minds think alike — or at least minds focussed on spreading the word about working-class struggle. The timing of Martin Donohue’s tribute (Solidarity 3/154) to the US Labor Notes publication A Troublemaker’s Handbook (TMH) coincides almost exactly with the National Shop Stewards’ Network’s latest conference in London on 27 June, where as NSSN Education and Publications officer I issued an appeal for a British “Troublemaker’s Handbook” — with the rather less snazzy (provisional) title Tips and Victories.

At the NSSN conference, as at all gatherings of trade union activists, from shop steward classes to TUC bar discussions, we heard not only of demands and grievances but also of victories great and small against capital. These range from the Lindsey Oil Refinery workers’ unequivocal defeat of oil giant Total to the workplace organising of Tube cleaners which is taking place against all the odds as strong sections of workers lend their support to these highly vulnerable but courageous activists.

All these stories, from strikes to organising strategies, like the highly effective rank and file structures developed at Metronet — including union meetings of non-unionised workers — and at Fujitsu, where long-term stewards have drawn more and more workers across this high-tech company into basic forms of union participation — deserve to be heard, not only as part of recognising their immense achievements in difficult circumstances but, more importantly, in order to pass on to other activists these “tips” on achieving “victories” large and small.

The purpose of a UK Troublemaker’s Handbook, as in the US version — actually the second of a highly successful series — is, more than anything, to strengthen workers’ struggles and organising activities through awareness of existing examples of victories large and small which, for obvious reasons, very rarely hit the headlines.

Over and over at the NSSN conference, workers expressed their need for more information about what’s going on across the movement. As Martin kindly suggests, the “excellent” Trade Union News, a publication I once edited, did once perform that function and appeared highly valued by rank and file workers, pushing its circulation up rapidly into the thousands before the usual suspects forced its demise.

The quarterly publication Solidarity: the Trade Union Magazine has partially filled this vacuum, but needs more support and building.

In the meantime, let’s hope Tips and Victories will provide much-needed information and encouragement for workers in struggle. I’m hoping to gain enough material within the next six months or so to get it out next year. Please send your tips and victories to me at mooco3@btinternet.com.

Sheila Cohen

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