"A 'rank and file youth project' - a quick fix?": preamble to amendments 6.1 and 6.3

Submitted by martin on 20 May, 2007 - 7:09

Preamble for amendments 6.1 and 6.3

Marxists have built a real base in a section of the class as the result of winning over existing militants and winning new activists from the existing workforce, whether that is in the Second International, the building of the Communist Parties or the work of the SWP (US) in the Teamsters in the 1930’s and 40’s. Even the rank and file movements in the 1960s in Britain were based on a network of existing militants being won over by the SLL or the IS.

I learnt a great deal about trade unionism in the years I worked on the post, both positive and negative. I didn’t keep my head down, I had a reputation for being a good principled militant union activist and rep, but I was clearly not one of the old school, I was the youngest rep by at least a decade and a half and the newest post office worker by at least twenty years on the union committee.

Because I argued about sexism and homophobia I stuck out like a sore thumb despite lying on my application form and never telling anyone I had gone to university I clearly came from a different place from most of my work mates. I did some good union stuff, however in terms of being an active member of the group it was a bad experience.

Getting up at 4.30am six days a week, then doing some union work after the finish time at 2pm meant I had little time once I got home in the week before going to the evening meeting Monday, Tuesday, Weds and Thursday. On Saturday I went straight from work to meetings that went into the evenings. I was totally exhausted all the time, I barely read anything and I regularly fell to sleep in my dinner.

I never found a contact or anyone who would buy the paper; two people bought the paper a couple of times but not again. I had vague political discussions and more detailed arguments about union tactics but noting I could call contact work.

After years of this I knew I had a choice, stop being an activist in the AWL and concentrate on being a CWU rep and postal worker or get out of the post office. A chance to become a union organiser through the TUC academy came up I went for it and became a union organiser.

The "A Rank and File Youth Project for us" document makes several claims about ‘low-level full time union official jobs which do not match up with my experience.

“They tend to suck the person into the job (and then overtime, and then extra overtime) as a substitute for political activity”

Leaving the post office to become a union organiser enabled me to remain an activist in the AWL. (Sic) While working as an organiser I have recruited one union member who then went on to be an organiser and one union organiser to the AWL, got two subscriptions to the paper, and involved other people in the work of No Sweat. As an organiser I have found far more people who I could treat as contacts in workplaces and amongst other organisers than I found in a large post office branch of the CWU.

“..offer little scope for the person who takes that job to organise as a worker, with fellow-workers.”

I have been a rep and lead negotiator and was elected BDC Delegate for the staff union GMB. I am now active in a union branch of some 150 union staff which voted to support No Sweat.

“Low-level union official jobs neutralise them (radicalised young people)”

I have seen plenty of elected rank and file reps neutralised by union activity, most radicalised young people are neutralised because they do not gain the politics they need to hold out against the stream as reps, as radicals or, yes, as low level union officials too. How many of our colonised comrades have neutralised?

The problem for anyone in our movement as a worker, activist, rep or official is having the politics, strategy and support to stand up for Marxism.

The vitriol in the "A Rank and File Youth Project for us" against union organisers or as it prefers to call us low-level full time union officials is not part of our political tradition and is the result of a moralistic colonisation policy.

I am not advocating people becoming managers like Engels did, I am not in favour of people signing up to join the cops. Of course there will still be those who want to get a job like being a postal worker to be in the thick of the struggle, as I did, but I am against a ‘policy’ of colonisation based on a short list of important jobs which in fact most of the group ignores while there is a focus on young comrades and students to take one of a short list of jobs.

The focus on a few jobs leads to moral blackjacking, it's a substitutionist distraction from building our ideas in the class and strengthening our union fractions' work.