In the first of a series of articles exploring the basics of organising our workplaces, James Reed, a Fellow Worker from Clydeside IWW outlines what a union actually is and explores why you should consider forming one in your workplace or community.
You might not know much about trade unions, or maybe you’ve only ever seen them on the news. Or maybe you just joined the one in your workplace when you started the job, but you’ve not heard much about what it’s for or what it’s doing.
You might hear of strikes and union victories in other places, but think that sort of thing isn’t possible where you are. Or maybe you want to do things like that at your job too, but just don’t know where to start.
Not to worry: this article is for you.
What is a trade union?
So, what is a trade union?
At its most basic, a trade union is an association of workers who have gotten together to fight for improvements to their pay and their working conditions. Maybe they are calling for a wage rise, for layoffs to be halted, or for an end to bullying and harassment by managers.
Maybe the aim is as simple as winning some break time during a hectic shift. Whatever the reason, the point is that a group of workers are taking action together.
Some trade unions are very large, with thousands of members and branches in workplaces all over the country. Some can be much smaller, made up of only a few branches or perhaps just the staff at a single shop.
They can be made up of one profession, like a teacher’s union, or they can contain multiple different professions.
Any group of workers at any workplace can form a union. The first step is gathering together like-minded co-workers around a demand, and then working out how that demand can be won.
Of course, maybe you know what you’d like improved, and maybe you grumble about it with your friends when the manager isn’t nearby. But you might not see what collective action could do that you couldn’t by yourself. So:
Why should you join a union?
Simple: Because there is strength in numbers. If you have a problem in your workplace and you are facing it by yourself, you might get lucky with the decisions of an HR department on your behalf, or you might be lucky enough to have a manager who’s sympathetic and ready to argue your case.
But few of us work in such convenient conditions, and even if we do, there is no guarantee that we will get what we hope for from the official channels. Besides, let’s face it – decisions like redundancies, site closures and pay cuts are handed down from up above, so it’s not like a friendly middle-manager can do much for you anyhow when it comes to big disputes.
For those with the economic security or flexibility to take a leap of faith, there might be the option of looking for a better job elsewhere. But not everyone is able to take a chance like that, especially with the cost of living crisis. This is what faces the lone worker when they want to change things – they can put their hopes in the company, they can move, or they can stick where they are, pissed off but living with it for the forseeable.
What’s the alternative?
Alone, a worker has little power.
But when workers combine, they gain strength – not just from sheer numbers, but from how a united workplace can take actions a single person couldn’t, like strikes.
This is when workers decide to stop working, and not go back to their posts until they have won their demand. Because it is our labour that produces the profit for the bosses and the shareholders, we can withhold that labour, bring business to a halt and strike a blow against their profit.
The capitalist might not care if you tell him a sob story, but if you hit him in the wallet, he’ll listen!
But in order to succeed, a strike requires that as many workers as possible take part.
Obviously, if it’s just you and a couple of your pals going on strike, then business can go on as usual, and you can easily be isolated and punished by management. But if a majority of the staff go out with you, and stay out, then no work can be done.
This is why unions matter, because they are a tool which helps the workers organise themselves, collect together their shared demands, and wage a united struggle for them.
One response to “What are Unions and Why Should You Form One?”
Reblogged this on Industrial Workers of the World Dorset.