How not to reinvent the wheel

Submitted by Anon on 26 June, 2009 - 7:45 Author: Martin Donohue

Martin Donohue recommends The Troublemaker’s Handbook by Labor Notes

Founded in the USA in 1979, Labor Notes is rank and file union organising project and best known for its monthly newsletter. It also organises conferences attracting over 1000 rank and file union stewards, and published pamphlets and books.

The continued survival and success of such a democratic, living and vibrant project in the belly of the world capitalism holds up an unflattering mirror to our experience in the UK. Since the demise of the excellent Trade Union News we have had nothing remotely similar.

The Troublemaker’s Handbook (TH) is simply essential. Every union rep and activist should have a copy of this book, and it is invaluable as an exciting and involving primer for younger socialists with less experience of unions.

The TH contains page after page of first hand accounts of genuinely organising in the workplace. “Organising” or the “organising agenda” has replaced partnership as the buzzword/cliché within the union movement. But organising means all things to all people. This book serves as a welcome reminder of what organising should mean. Organising is not something that needs to be done for us by “professionals”. It is the means by which the rank and file can struggle to win back power in the workplace.

Chapters include: shop floor and creative tactics, reforming your branch, and bringing immigrants into the movement. There is a wealth of bitterly won first hand experience here. Don’t reinvent the wheel! Read it, and give yourself and your union brothers and sisters and a head start over management. So much of rank and file union wisdom is oral, and often lost to the wind. This book provides an invaluable service to the movement in capturing and collecting this information and presenting it in an inspiring way.

Hopefully by now you’ve already decided to buy the TH (or better, to get your union branch to buy a few copies), so I can safely add a word of warning. This is a book written from the American experience, so there are differences of terminology and more. For example some locals (branches) in the States have tens of thousands of members, so sections on running your “local” read a little different from one written here. This should not detract from the book, but highlights the lack of a similar book made specific to UK realities.

• The Troublemaker’s Handbook:, $24 plus $4.50 postage

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