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(en) Review of "The Couriers are revolting"

From Jura Books <a-infos-@chaos.apana.org.au>
Date Tue, 24 Oct 2000 09:11:26 -0400 (EDT)

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

Review of "The Couriers are revolting" The Despatch Industry Workers Union
1989-92 Kate Sharpely Library 1.50 British Pounds
>From Rebel Worker Vol.19 No.5 (167) Oct.-Nov. 2000
 Subs. $12 pa Aust. $25 pa air-mail overseas Postal Address PO Box 92 
Broadway 2007 NSW Australia. 
This pamphlet under review focuses upon an organising drive by
anarcho-syndicalists associated with the British Solidarity Federation
among courier workers in London. This was a genuine attempt at facilitating
workers self activity rather than a vanguardist exploit to recruit for a
sect or establish  a "Potemkin union" to provide fake credibility for
overseas observers of such a sect.
Whilst the militants were unsuccessful in consolidating the base of an
ongoing union in this sector, they did win some victories  and improved
workers conditions. Their experience chronicled in the pamphlet throws
light on some problems of syndicalist industrial organising and strategy.
One important organising issue touched upon relates to the appropriate
levels of openness and the profile to be adopted in the initial stages of
such a drive. The author states in the pamphlet that the militants in
hindsight considered they were over cautious regarding approaches from
workers and the advertising of meetings. As a result they delayed making
contacts for their organising drive. Their shadowy profile however would
have discouraged legal action and victimisation of militants. Well targeted
legal action by the bosses and the union hierarchy assisted by deep
infiltration by their stooges is likely to have had lethal consequences for
the drive, particularly in its early vulnerable stage. The author goes on
to mention a common hazard of organising drives at companies was the
attendance by bosses and their stooges at union meetings which led to
victimisation of militants. 
The pamphlet throws light on some innovative industrial tactics such as
picketing courier firm customers, rather than the firm itself during a
dispute and blocking the radio frequencies of the firm.
According to the author as a result of the combined effects of a high
turnover of employees in courier firms, an associated inability to
consolidate DWIU branches at these firms, and Norwich Union's refusal to
provide insurance to many couriers, the DWIU's organising drive was
terminated and the DWIU was dissolved.
Whilst a major contribution to the organising activity of the militants was
a boom in the courier industry in London, a key factor which is likely to
have ensured rapid success and overcome various structural obstacles ie a
high turn over of workers in the industry, for the drive would have been a
high level of morale generally in the labour movement contributed by major
victories won by workers in more strategic sectors. The background of
massive militant action and industrial successes in the mining and
transport industries by militant workers must be seen as a major
contribution to the formation of a viable and industrially very successful
anarcho-syndicalist oriented catering workers union which existed in London
in the years immediately prior to WWI. (See Wilf McCartney's Pamphlet "Dare
to be Daniel").
Should the DWIU's organising drive have been a  success. What would have
been the outlook? Unless this insurgent contagion spread to other
industries particularly strategic ones or more likely converged with
similar movements in them, the DWIU is mostly like to have faced a massive
counter offensive later down the road due to encirling managements, union
bureaucracies and the State. An alarming historical precedent is the fate
which met the anarcho-syndicalist oriented NSW Builders Labourers
Federation in the mid 1970's due to the failure of  its militants  to
generalise a syndicalist insugency throughout the industry and into other
industries. It was eventually crushed by a successful counterattack by
management/state/union bureaucratic forces. 
Mark McGuire

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