UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Alliances highly desirable but workplace power is essential

The Economist magazine provides an interesting analysis of the decision of the recent AFL-CIO Congress to deepen ties with community groups and other allies. Is offering membership-lite links for groups who agitate for workers rights outside collective bargaining an admission that the US unions (12 million strong, less than 11% density) will never return to the days of solid membership and industrial strength? Only by embracing the campaign groups of ethnic minorities and social justice organisations will the unions recover according to The Economist.

It is a pious hope that unions will shift permanently from industrial strength and collective bargaining to lobbying and media campaigns. It is not a solution.

However it does represent a welcome tactical move. We do not value enough our ties and overlapping interests with our allies. We do not utilise their support and their special skills enough. As one US trade unionist put it `every trade union campaign should have a dead baby seal photo and story`. We need to capture the spirit and meaning of community support for workers struggles. Our allies will work with us and line up with us, we should do more to encourage and achieve that unity. But there is no real substitute for union strength based on organised power.

Of course the Economist wants to encourage unions away from regaining real membership. We should not be tempted. But that is not to deny a need for more effective relationships with our allies. As the CWU battles over postal privatisation and UNISON battles over the NHS, local government and probation hive offs, we have to develop more sophisticated campaigns with our allies and we will.

Workers will need unions while human beings are working. But they will need unions with power and not just a campaign slogan.