Thursday, 20 October 2011

A learning curve on the path to November 30

Last night, I was due to attend a meeting with union reps from various workplaces around Bootle as a first step towards the establishment of a Bootle Strike Committee. To say that it wasn't well attended would be something of an understatement. However, rather than making us disheartened, this simply reinforces how much work we need to put in in the coming weeks.

I was under no illusion that we would see a union rep from every public sector workplace in the area and immediately have a strike committee up-and-running. However, the scale of the poor turnout did startle me somewhat and I must admit to an initial feeling of despair. We seemed to have not moved since our initial efforts at building ahead of June 30, despite there being a far wider pool of unions this time and their reps seeming far less reticent about getting involved.

In part, those of us who did turn up can put this down to our own mistakes. There was too much reliance on a small pool of contacts who, ultimately, turned out to be unreliable. And our progress in making contact was far too slow, almost taking the amount of time until strike day for granted.

However, there were also other hurdles which still need to be overcome. Unison reps, for one, seem unwilling to commit to broader activity until their own ballot has been won. This is perfectly understandable, of course, and there have been a number of members' meetings locally as part of the drive for that all-important "yes" vote which will be taking people's time. However, it is also frustrating, and at any rate doesn't account for the absence of other unions who already have a mandate for strike action.

Then there is the inactivity within my own branch, even amongst reps. This was always going to be a problem, giving that I am essentially talking about rebuilding a culture of mass participation and self-organisation that has been all but stamped out in the last thirty years. But this is compounded by factional issues within my branch, and the fact that the people who hold the power their are not only reluctant to let it go but are even closing ranks further as a demand for more openness spreads and militancy grows. I also have it on good authority that I'm viewed with particular suspicion by some reps because I openly advocate anarcho-syndicalist aims and tactics.

Particularly, this has been frustrating when my being more proactive - such as  in designing a steady flow of strike propaganda and actively pushing people to volunteer their time in handing it out - has seen others take a step back. Having a third of our campaigns committee in a hurry to leave meetings after agreeing to a leaflet I've written, and abdicating responsibility for planning things such as coordination with other unions, is also incredibly infuriating.

Still, despite these hurdles, I remain determined that we will come out of November 30 with something to build upon. Thus, despite the poor attendance, the meeting went ahead. The first decision we made was that we would initiate planned activities now anyway and pull others in as we gained momentum. This would include going out to individual workplaces and seeking out somebody who would talk to us and get involved rather than rely solely on contact lists and branch officials. After all, whilst we may be hitting a brick wall at an inactive or disinterested official, there may be plenty of people at shop floor level just itching to get involved.

As we head into November, we will be looking to hold regular campaign stalls, leaflet the public and claimants, and perhaps even hold a demonstration in the town ahead of strike day. On the day itself, the aim is to hold picket line assemblies where workers can decide what happens next in the struggle, followed by a strike day party which would raise money for a local strike fund.

Before all that, though, the first step is to build. We have hopefully learned from our complacency this time around and can redouble our efforts to get at least one person from each workplace onto a Strike Committee-in-formation. We will also be holding a public meeting on the evening of Wednesday 9th November, though the details of this have yet to be finalised. All of which, with luck, will see yesterday's disappointment fast turn into real momentum.

I'll continue to update this blog as our attempt to build progresses over the next month. No doubt it will be far from perfect, but our failures teach us as much as our successes, if we are honest about them. And ultimately we are in a far better position already than if we were doing no building at all.