It is heartening to see the number of current disputes.
In DVSA 92% of Driving Examiners members voted for strike action on an 80% turnout. This dispute, triggered by the Department for Transport, is over forced moves to an 8 test day for full timers (up from the current 7) and a proportionate increase in testing for part timers.
On 1 October, a month’s long strike will begin for cleaners and attendants working to the Royal Parks. This is over jobs and conditions.
Shortly we expect members in DVLA Swansea to be reballoted. This is over safety in the workplace.
The question arises though, why aren’t there not even more disputes? Certainly the material basis for those are everywhere. For example, in DWP, management are forcing staff into the workplace. In the ‘old’ days this would have triggered multiple branch disputes, possibly a group strike, yet at the moment, nothing.
Whilst leadership, or the lack of it, is a factor as always in these matters, a key issue though is that our organising culture is wholly lacking. So whilst it varies greatly across the union, our percentage membership is not as high as it was pre-check off. Of course our density levels then were as not as great as in the past.
Whilst not downplaying the political background where many young people have not heard of a union the plain fact is that as a union, with honourable exceptions, organising, not only in the sense of recruiting members but crucially developing activists and getting members involved, is not a priority.
So what can be done? Firstly we should just admit the truth that we have to rebuild an organising culture. Indeed at the last ADC, delegates passed an NEC motion that amongst other things calls on the union to ‘Develop a structured programme to build an organising culture’.
As we all know though there is a big difference between passing a motion and actually actioning the terms of a motion. At the moment the union has not said how it is going to build the necessary culture. Certainly it cannot be done by the NEC alone or by FTOs. Whilst the national union can kick start the change, only if activists and members are engaged, can the change be made.
Over the coming weeks, the Independent Left will set out some ideas as to what we would like to see. In the end though we need a cross-union conversation on organising. If we don’t then the culture won’t change. That won’t mean the end of the union but it will mean a progressive corrosion of the union’s influence in the workplace. It is in our hands to prevent that.