The next month sees two important trade union events for socialists who want to organise for a fighting labour movement. The first is the RMT-sponsored conference for a “national shop stewards’ movement” on 28 October; the second the Respect-initiated “Organising for Fighting Unions” conference on 11 November.
Supporters of Solidarity and the AWL will be attending both events, but our attitude to them is different.
The “shop stewards” conference has been pushed for by sections of the RMT union and that shows there is eagerness to go beyond semi-syndicalist (and highly limited) militancy to reach out to wider layers of the trade union movement.
However the platform is very heavy with trade union general secretaries, and there is not a shop steward in sight! Probably the platform results from lack of any real grip on how too organise a shop stewards’ movement rather than malign intentions, but it is a serious limitation — particularly when most of the general secretaries involved are less than militant in their approach.
The building of a genuine rank-and-file movement will necessarily mean conflict with the existing leadership — even in the RMT. Nonetheless, the organisation of the conference is a step forward and AWL trade unionists will be there to take part and discuss with the many left-wing trade unionists who will no doubt be attracted by it. Trade union branches should send delegates to the conference.
Respect’s “Organising for fighting unions” conference is a different matter. It comes out of Respect’s recent turn towards the organising working class now that other avenues for significant growth have proved disappointing. However is about building Respect rather than a reorientation towards independent working-class politics.
The model resolution of support for the conference and supporting statement lists four main demands to organise around: 1) Stop the privatisation of the NHS, education and housing; 2) Support the RMT-sponsored Trade Union Freedom Bill; 3) Defend pension rights; and 4) Join the discussion about political representation for trade unionists. There is no attempt to integrate these demands into a coherent class-struggle perspective.
Moreover, there is a significant gap between the rhetoric and the way that Respect and SWP trade unionists have behaved in the unions.
The SWP are no doubt aware of the inconsistencies, which is why the conference has been organised in the way it has. Nowhere is there mention of the need for a rank-and-file movement. Both the advance agenda and common sense suggest that the space for debate and discussion are likely to be very small — as was the case with the Socialist Alliance TU conferences — but Respect's control-freakery is much worse.
Nonetheless, the sponsors’ list for the conference suggests many left-wing trade unionists will be in attendance. AWL trade union activists will be there as individuals and welcome the discussion that even an event like this should provoke, but we cannot advocate support for the conference.
If you are going to either the 28 October or the 11 November conference and want to get in touch email firstname.lastname@example.org.