Friday, February 16, 2007
Learning from the past
According to the 2004 Workplace Employment Relations Survey (PDF), there are some 320000 workplace representatives: 230000 shop stewards, the rest being health and safety and learning reps. “Union representatives tend to be male (56 per cent are male), relatively old (78 per cent are 40 or over, and the average age is 46) and work full-time (92 per cent are full time employees).”
The key statistic here is that the average age is 46. Perhaps the biggest difference I have with today’s revolutionary left groups is that I believe any broad left wing alternative to Labour cannot by-pass or ignore this layer, by looking for fresh new radicalised people - whether yoof or Muslims!
These tens of thousands of activists have developed their political understanding of the world over a long period of time, and a small but very significant layer have been informed by experience of the far left.
Therefore, in order to understand te politics of the activists of the unions we cannot start with a blank sheet of paper, we also need to learn from the past.
Over the next few weeks I will be writing more about the history of the SWP’s industrial policy. But before I start I wish to thank Mike Pearn for sending me a copy of Roger Cox’s seminal article on organising in the workplace from July 1983 – that was representative of a major and disastrous turn in the SWP away from the established activists. I also wish to thank “Grouchy” for sendng me a copy of his very interesting article: “Socialist Worker – paper with a purpose” published in Media Culture and Society (1985). This provides a useful review of changes in the paper, and also extracts from an interview with Roger Protz (editor of SW n the early 1970s) that makes some insightful observations.