Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Small Unions: Part of the Big Picture


Working for the GFTU, the UK’s federation for small, specialist unions and professional associations, it is always of interest when there is a development which helps (re)inform our labour movement understanding of the way in which small groups of workers comprising their own bargaining unit are of critical relevance to organising strategy.

Grunwick: An insight upon state fear of worker mobilisation
Classic workers’ struggles represented throughout the UK’s labour history from Tolpuddle to Grunwick illustrates the power of small groups of workers to challenge employer and state power. Indeed, direct state aggression/violence in both of these cases represents a critically valuable insight on the potentially far-reaching implications of worker resistance and of what the state feared.

So the current response of employers and their acolytes across right wing politics in the US around the mis-named micro unions is a contemporary perspective on an historic tradition of labour movement expansion of new forms and models of collective representation of workers.

In a fascinating piece which was published recently by In These Times there is an important investigation of the way in which the employer-right-wing-lobby nexus is attempting to curtail the capacity of independent small groups of workers to gain formal recognition for collective bargaining purposes.
The nexus is attempting to re-classify, re-brand and toxify an age-old tradition of workers voluntarily and organically seeking to gain recognition as a means of either creating a new, standalone union or gaining additional power through merger with a larger, long-standing union or federation. Thus the term ‘micro union’ has been crafted to suggest that officials from the US National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) have been actively encouraging groups of workers to organise and thereby offering them easier access to recognition.

As Bruce Vail outlines in the In These Times piece
A micro-union, in short, is a relatively new description for a time-worn labor organizing technique that focuses on smaller, sharply defined groups of workers for the purpose of creating collective workplace action. That tactic, although nothing new, rubs against the grain of the popular imagination of labor organizing as a mass movement against large, highly visible corporations.

In short, what is happening in the US is an attempt to circumvent by statute the most natural form of expression on the part of workers: the right to collectivise their interests and mobilise these in the form of a union.
Although there is some suggestion that the latest attempt to curb this tradition will fail the article is well-worth a read regardless, if nothing else for a sense in the US of the right-wing backlash in the face of a nascent upturn in the appeal of unions as a voice for workers:


In Solidarity


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