It’s fair to say that, for the most part, we’re really not living through glorious, uplifting times right now. Everywhere we turn there seems to be a new attack, so it’s hard to just keep up with the latest bad news, let alone work out some kind of coherent response. This makes it all the more important to pay attention to those cases where we do win. This isn’t to say that we should try and paint defeats as victories, as the unions and those around them so often do, but to try and understand what it is that means we can sometimes win, in order to generalise the most effective tactics as widely as possible, and to remind ourselves that our powerlessness isn’t an eternal, fixed thing, but the product of specific circumstances, and that it can be overcome. Starry-eyed, uncritical optimism and absolute defeatism are equally worthless: if we’re to get anywhere with the project of taking back control over our lives, we need to start off by looking reality in the face, but paying particular attention to those parts of it that we’re most able to change.
Anyway, all of this is a lead-up to one exciting piece of news: construction workers have won a big and important victory over the bosses running the Crossrail project by forcing them to reinstate blacklisted worker Frank Morris after a year-long fight. The initial statement from the Blacklist Support Group can be read here, and Union News and the Blacklist Blog both have good write-ups as well. As Dave Smith from the Blacklist Support Group put it, “The reinstatement of Frank Morris is a kick in the teeth for the blacklisting firms and a turning point in industrial relations in the construction industry.
“This is a historic union victory. And Frank Morris is a working class hero. Raise a glass to celebrate – the rest of the trade union movement, please take note.”
There seems to have been surprisingly little discussion of this in anarchist/syndicalist/libertarian/ultra-left circles, so hopefully posting this here will help to generate a bit more interest. A lot more remains to be said about this dispute – how much were the rank-and-file able to take the initiative, and how much was it managed from the top down? What worked and what didn’t work? What can be generalised and how much of this is due to specific conditions in the construction industry? Is it a straightforward win or are there hidden downsides that Unite aren’t telling us about? All of these questions are worth discussing, and they may have important lessons for those of us trying to fight back in our own workplaces and communities. But aside from all that, it’s worth stressing the basic point one more time – BFK sacked Frank Morris and didn’t want to give him his job back, Frank and his fellow workers fought back, and they won. It may seem like the bastards always get everything their own way, but that’s not quite true. When we fight we can win. That lesson is always worth bearing in mind when things are going badly.
Another piece of good news comes from Wigan, where the bakers’ union claim that they’ve managed to force Hovis to stop using zero hour contracts. This sounds like a much more standard union dispute, but anything that forces the bosses to back down is worth taking note of, and the fact that they’re continuing with strike action instead of calling the dispute off is impressive compared to standard union practice.