Unions kiss Remploy goodbye

In a grimly predictable move, the Remploy strike scheduled for this Monday has been called off. The official union statement doesn’t seem to be available anywhere except on the Socialist Party and Right to Work websites – neither group seems to have anything critical to say about this decision, they just reprint the GMB and Unite’s claim to be “developing a new strategy which will have more effect on the government”. Apart from anything else, this whole process draws attention to just how alien and bureaucratic the modern union structures are – when I went down to support the picket lines for the last strike, I asked people if they had any idea what the next step was, and none of the strikers had any idea, but a visiting Socialist Party activist, presumably someone with good connections to the union bureaucracy, told us all that the next strike had been called for this Monday. And now, just as the strike was handed down from above, it’s been taken away again, and the workers who were told when they’re striking will now be given orders to come into work as usual.
This also exposes how flimsy the distinction between “good union leaders”, or “good unions” and “bad” ones are – union leaders don’t call strikes because they’re militant, or call them off because they’re sell-outs, they behave according to the logic of the situation they’re in. They call strikes when they feel like they have to, and call them off when they feel that they can get away with it. This means we have to be critical of the unions all the time – if we go quiet about our objections to them when they do something we like, like calling a strike, it leaves us on the back foot when they call it off again. This is as true at Remploy as it is with Home Office workers or truck drivers.
The decision to give up on Remploy is a shame, but it’s nothing surprising. For those of us who want the Remploy workers to win, and recognise that the only way this can happen is by taking the kind of action that the unions won’t allow, the question is what can we do about it? If we don’t have any natural, pre-existing connections with Remploy workers, and the decision to call the strike off is handed down through the union structure so they’re getting the news from union reps they know personally, is there anything outside supporters can do that will meaningfully encourage wildcat action? Is there any point in us going to things like the lobby of the DWP’s offices that the unions have called on Wednesday? Of course, lobbies themselves don’t do shit, but going to these kinds of events could be a way of meeting militant Remploy workers and trying to encourage a mood for unofficial action. But on the other hand, that could just be typical activist self-delusion: if Remploy workers aren’t willing to take wildcat action already, the odds are that a brief chat with someone they’ve never met before outside the DWP offices aren’t going to change their mind.
I don’t really have any conclusion to put here. It’s possible that, by turning up to these kind of events, supporters of the dispute might in some way manage to have an influence on rank-and-file Remploy workers and encourage them to take action for themselves, outside of union control. It’s also very possible that we’d just be wasting our time.
Closing note: For anyone who’s interested in the ongoing conversations about revolutionary organisations and what they could look like, a member of the Black Orchid Collective has written a new piece called “Between the Leninists and the Clowns” which looks at how we can “avoid the problems of disorganization that lead to a situation where working class people think we are sociopathic clowns trying to attack them… without reverting to forms of Leninism that are as outdated as dinosaurs”. It’s very Seattle-centric, and a product of conditions that’re very different to what we’re seeing in the UK today, but still worth a read – it’s always good to encounter ideas that have been born out of practice, and even more so when they’re from practice that’s happening right now, not some time in the last century.

About nothingiseverlost

"The impulse to fight against work and management is immediately collective. As we fight against the conditions of our own lives, we see that other people are doing the same. To get anywhere we have to fight side by side. We begin to break down the divisions between us and prejudices, hierarchies, and nationalisms begin to be undermined. As we build trust and solidarity, we grow more daring and combative. More becomes possible. We get more organized, more confident, more disruptive and more powerful."
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6 Responses to Unions kiss Remploy goodbye

  1. Pingback: Unions kiss Remploy goodbye | Cautiously pessimistic « Africa « Progressive News Feeds

  2. Adam Ford says:

    You are right of course. On a general note, striking at a workplace that the bosses want to close down has always struck me (pardon the pun) as no kind of tactic for working class self defence. What would be awesome at Remploy – and would quickly get mass support – is an occupation. At this stage that might be pie in the sky, but I’m just throwing the idea out there

    • True. The other complicating factor is that they’re only planning to close some Remploy factories this year, with the others staying open until some indefinite point in the future. It’s good that the factories that aren’t being closed immediately are still striking, although the impression I got was that strike observance was a lot weaker at some of the ones that aren’t facing immediate closure, because people are being encouraged to think that if they scab, they’ll be seen as “good” workers and there’ll be more chance of an external buyer wanting to take the factory over. Having said that, that’s just a very personal impression based on talking to a few people, it’s hard to get a general picture of how well the strike was observed on a national level because a) the unions are a bit crap at actually sharing information about what they’re doing, as with the situation I was in where Socialist Party activists knew more than the Remploy workers about what their union was planning, and b) neither the unions nor the left groups are really known for their honesty, so it’s hard to tell the difference between a report from a strong, well-supported picket line, and a report from a fairly weak strike where the writer’s putting a brave face on it.
      So, yeah, I agree with your general point about how occupations would be the best tactic, but since there’s a bunch of other factories that aren’t slated for closure just yet, it seems possible that all-out action at those sites might have an effect. But in a sense all this is secondary – we won’t see either an occupation or an all-out national strike without Remploy workers having the confidence to take action outside of the GMB or Unite, which takes us back to the central question of what it’d take for them to get that kind of confidence, and whether there’s anything we can do to assist in the process.

  3. Pingback: Unions kiss Remploy goodbye | Hastings Anarchists

  4. Pingback: Meanwhile, away from London… | Cautiously pessimistic

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