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(en) The ACTU's Organising Model. Opportunities for Workers' Control?

From Jura Books <a-infos-@chaos.apana.org.au>
Date Thu, 6 Mar 2003 08:46:20 +0100 (CET)

      A - I N F O S  N E W S  S E R V I C E

> A New Leadership, a New Agenda.
With the departure of the Accord-tainted Bill Kelty from the secretaryship 
of the ACTU (Australian Council of Trade Unions - a confederation of 
bureaucratic social democratic unions tied to various factions of the 
A.L.P. (Australian Labor Party) in 1999, a new, young leadership took the 
opportunity to try new methods to remedy what they perceived to be the big 
problem confronting Australian unionism, namely, the ongoing decline in 
union membership. The big problem from the perspective of Workers' Control 
activists, however, is not so much the decline in union membership per se, 
but rather, the causes of the decline, which can be traced directly to the 
Hawke-Keating-Kelty triumvirate's disempowerment of workers through the 
imposition of economic deregulation, and the use of union officialdom to 
suppress wages and trade-off hard-won conditions. The Accord years have 
left a legacy of depressingly low morale amongst workers that is the single 
biggest obstacle to revivification of a militant spirit.

New secretary, Greg Combet, used the 2000 ACTU Congress to announce the new 
agenda: organising will achieve renewed growth in union membership. But in 
order for organising to be successful, activism amongst the rank-and-file 
must not only be permitted by union officials, it must actively be 
encouraged. Workers, however, will only get active and stick their necks 
out if they believe there is a real possibility of achieving tangible goals 
- like making real improvements to their incomes, working conditions and 
levels of job control. To this end, the ACTU promotes rank-and-file 
activism as a means by which workers organise to win local campaigns that 
they themselves have defined, planned and executed. Other workers, who 
previously may have been inactive, or even hostile to unionism, on seeing 
the example of victory, can be drawn into the activist milieu, thereby, 
creating an even stronger position from which to mount further campaigns 
and draw yet more people in. In creating a culture of militancy and 
'self-activation' that's capable of winning campaigns under the workers' 
own steam the ACTU hopes to attract more workers into unions and reverse 
the decline in union density.

> Organising Model versus Servicing Model.
In order to generate a culture of activism amongst unionists the ACTU wants 
to scrap the so-called Servicing Model, the much beloved device of union 
bosses of many political colours that allowed for the easy manipulation and 
selling-out of workers, and its replacement with the Organising Model.

The Servicing Model is based on the idea that union officials and job 
delegates, whether appointed or elected, are there to provide a service to 
union members. Delegates and officials are deemed to be 'representative' of 
the members 'below' them and, therefore, are empowered to personally 
consult with bosses about disputes, and come back to members with 
'recommendations' far them to either 'approve' or 'reject'. Mostly, workers 
are not presented with enough information to make meaningful choices - they 
are more often than not presented with a fait accompli.

The obvious problem with this so-called Servicing approach is that workers 
are kept completely in the dark about the proceedings of meetings between 
delegates/officials and the bosses. They don't know whether the 
delegate/official is giving his all for the members, or whether he's 
sitting back having a beer with the boss and pocketing an envelope full of 
money. The Servicing Model encourages workers to be passive and uninvolved 
in union affairs and discourages participation and activism, relying 
instead on bureaucratically 'solving' problems as they arise. Workers come 
to regard delegates and officials as part of the hierarchy of bosses 
because they see them continually doing deals with bosses ostensibly on 
behalf of workers but with no input from them, and often to the workers' 
detriment. The Servicing Model arguably provides a greater service to 
bosses - its methods were used in selling the Prices and Incomes Accord to 
unsuspecting and trusting workers in the 1980s. Centralised, office-based, 
hierarchical union structures and practices are the hallmark of the 
Servicing Model.

Conversely, the Organising Model emphasises collective, rank-and-file 
'ownership' of industrial issues, and collective planning and execution of 
the struggle to resolve disputes; delegates and officials do not mediate 
between workers and bosses. It is ironic that this model comes to us on a 
platter at a time when workers' morale and confidence are at a historical 
low-point, and Workers' Control activists find it very difficult to inspire 
people into action.

> The Organising Model and Workers' Control.
The Organising Model provides Workers' Control activists with much greater 
freedom to act, since its basic methods are consistent with those of 
Workers' Control. Of course, the ends of the two currents differ 
dramatically - the Organising Model is, after all, the creation of the 
union bureaucracy and its aim is to increase union membership and finances 
and, thereby, restore the wider social power of the bureaucracy - but no 
longer is it so easy for union bureaucrats to marginaiise rank-and-file 
groups as 'ultra-left' or'trotskyite', since now, militants have the 
defence that they are actively pursuing the Organising Model. While the 
Organising Model represents the bureaucracy's attempt to rescue itself from 
its declining social role, it paradoxically contains the germ of the 
bureaucracy's destruction by allowing for the creation of an active, 
participatory, militant rank-and-file that fights and wins its own battles 
without the need for the involvement of officials.
Workers' Control activists can expand the parameters of the Organising 
Model by insisting on democratic practices within the union organisation of 
a workplace to get rid of any residual Servicing Model consciousness. 
Workers will arrive at this kind of critique in their own time but 
activists can give it a bit of a push along. The sovereignty of the 
workplace mass meeting must be insisted upon - this is consistent with the 
Organising Model's emphasis on decentralised, workplace-based unionism. A 
system of elected and recallable delegates whose job it is to carry out the 
will of the mass meeting must be insisted on and delegates must not be 
permitted to make any agreements with bosses without the approval of the 
mass meeting. Under no circumstances should delegates appointed by union 
bureaucrats be recognised. Where possible it would be preferable to not 
have delegates at all but to insist that bosses personally attend workers' 
mass meetings to negotiate disputes. The unemployed workers' movement in 
Argentina, for example, have employed the latter method because they 
discovered that even trusted militants are not always completely resistant 
to undue influence from bosses. Forcing bosses to negotiate with them 
within the context of a mass meeting would give workers a profound sense of 
power, solidarity and confidence, awakening them to greater possibilities 
in terms of Workers' Control.

Significant moments in the history of the rank-and-file of the labour 
movement can be popularised amongst workers to demonstrate that big 
improvements to wages, conditions and levels of job control are possible if 
the right methods are used. The experience of the NSW branch of the 
Builders' Labourers' Federation during its glory years in the 1960s and 
early 1970s provides many examples of the kinds of gains that are possible 
when the rank-and-file controls its own union and runs its own struggles. 
The BLF, to prevent its officials from getting too comfortable in the job 
and too distant from the workers, insisted on various disciplines that were 
designed to keep officials anchored in reality. For example, all officials' 
positions were restricted to a maximum of two terms, after which, the 
official went 'back on the tools'. No official received greater pay than 
that of the workers he represented, and when the union was out on strike 
the officials received no pay for the duration of the strike. Such measures 
inspired great respect from union members and contributed greatly to the 
BLF's successes because members knew they could trust their union.
Successes like these can be experienced again, plus a whole lot more. The 
Organising Model allows Workers' Control activists to operate completely 
out in the open, with the blessing of the ACTU, rather than furtively, 
secretly and underground, as in the past.

> Some Personal Notes.
In my union, the TWU (Transport Workers' Union), officials are pushing the 
Organising Model very vigorously, particularly in an attempt to create 
viable courier and taxi driver sections. The officials have told taxi 
driver members (my occupation) they want to help build a taxi driver 
section that functions autonomously from the TWU, controlled entirely by 
drivers. Of course, this was music to my ears, but it's not as easy to get 
drivers organised as it might sound. There are only about 300 taxi driver 
members of the TWU in NSW, and only a tiny handful of these are activists, 
the majority being drivers who joined purely to obtain services when they 
need them. Of these activists, a tiny handful are supportive of a Workers' 
Control or Organising Model approach to unionism. Most of the activists 
instinctively think in Servicing Model terms because they are long 
accustomed to it. One activist in particular has a long-established little 
fiefdom of influence amongst groups of drivers and taxi bosses that he is 
reluctant to relinquish, while most are either resistant or indifferent to 
attempts by officials or fellow activists to explain the benefits of the 
Organising Model. Some key activists regard drivers as too backward to want 
to join the union and treat them with contempt, while regarding themselves 
as a beneficent elite.

Another obstacle is low driver morale in the taxi workforce at large and an 
apparent reluctance to believe that anything can be done to improve the 
situation of drivers, least of all that drivers can bring about positive 
change themselves. Thus it's a tough slog for Workers' Control activists in 
the Sydney taxi industry, but in some country areas - the Blue Mountains, 
Nelson's Bay and Wagga Wagga, for example - drivers have had success in 
getting together to extract improvements from bosses.

Anyway, there's nought we can do but persist.
(Any comments, criticisms or words of wisdom would be welcomed.)
Peter Siegl.

 From Rebel Worker Vol.22 No.1 (180) Feb.-Mar.2003, Paper
of the Anarcho-Syndicalist Network, Subs. $12 per year (Aust.) $25 per year 
overseas airmail. Send to PO Box 92
Broadway 2007 NSW Australia

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