|Written by Socialist Voice – England/IWL|
|Wednesday, 23 May 2012 15:46|
Mick is a bricklayer who was a union official who was sacked after he ran for the leadership of what he felt was a inadequate corrupted union. The first person ever to be expelled from the union! He was Blacklisted by the police and the building employers to stop him organising.
He has been involved in many strikes, occupations, legal battles and prison and proudly holds the European record for Tower Crane occupations, seven days! Read below his interview to Socialist Voice.
Socialist Voice – What did the electricians win and what were their methods of struggle?
Mick Dooley – The electricians won two things by stopping multinational companies attack their terms and conditions. The first, they beat off the attacks on their wages and conditions, their wages could have been reduced by 30 per cent in the long term, and there would have been an immediate loss of travelling allowances, reduction in holidays and sickness benefit, reduction of apprentices and more use of casual agency labour.
The second victory was that they developed a nationwide rank and file group of electricians and wrestled control of their destiny from official trade union leaders. They developed a sense of independence whilst working with the officials but not under their control.
The electricians won a victory for the whole trade union movement and built the confidence in self-organisation of working people. They won comradeship, confidence, class consciousness, experience in struggle and pride in themselves and their class. They understand now that the hegemony of the boss is not absolute, they can win and they can fight back. That is their victory.
What is likely to happen next?
MD – This is a hard question for me to answer, as I am not a member of the electricians union. However I think two things are likely to happen, first a set of demands will be established which will become the clarion call for the electrical industry to organise around. One major demand is the abolition of agency labour because casual labour is used to undermine terms and conditions.
The official trade union has paid officials to organise around these demands, while the rank and file has become part of a group called The Combine, which operates within the union. Any failure in these groups will lead to a further development of loose rank and file activity which could develop with hard work and the dedication of their elected leadership, a strong militant base that could be reestablished among electricians in the construction industry. Further victories could encourage other groups of construction workers, assisted by the electricians, to come forward. The construction industry workers could begin to get organised as an effective group of trade unionists. Workers would have a real stake in the economy, which drives construction. All this depends on immediate rank and file activity and establishing a lasting foundation on which to build.
The second scenario is that inactivity on the front line may cause the unity so far achieved developed to crumble. However unless this is developed with full time assistance, the likelihood of widening the core of the rank and file will be reduced.
The essential core demands are a manageable instantly recognisable list of demands, which workers can conceptualise. An established, working and national rank and file group who direct the full time officials, supported by official resources will be the key to future success. Education courses in politics and economics should be developed and encouraged as well as regular communication bulletins, free forums and constant attacks on employers when and where necessary.
Would you say that the Trade Union movement’s fight for public services can learn from this victory?
MD – The lessons learnt are that the private sector employers are weaker than the public sector or municipal or nationalised industrial sectors. The public sector workers are perceived as fighting for self-interest. The official trade unions see the public sector workers as easier to recruit and pay contributions than private sector workers. However the question is fighting for public sector services, not public sector workers.
The public sector services are either cut back or privatised and reduced with the aim of increasing profit for the private companies. When services are cut back this is a reason to demand higher wages to pay for the same service on the ‘open’ market. For example; dental treatment, prescription charges and higher and further education fees. This can be used as a weapon to demand higher wages at the economic point where conflict becomes inevitable. Higher wages are needed to pay for the prescriptions, dental treatment and education for your children. So what is needed is the reinstatement of public service provision.
When services are privatised and cut, we have learnt from the electrician’s dispute, that private capital cannot cope with a sustained attack and adverse interference to their business, which is designed solely to maximise profit. Tight profit margins to obtain contracts from the public sector do not allow for trade union militancy. In short a sustained attack on a specific target that is politically driven is likely to succeed, if under taken with a developed rank and file organisation.
Anti trade union laws and public order legislation were broken in the electricians dispute with few arrests and little interference from the state. Civil disobedience, when carefully controlled and advertised can encourage greater participation in the fight back. This point needs a longer treatise however the kernel of the lesson is that powerful multinational companies and the state can be defeated because of the inherent weakness in the system of privatisation and finance capital.
Do you think that it is important to link unions and communities in a joint fight?
It is a number one priority. Recently the electricians assisted young people by demonstrating outside shops that were employing youngsters on the governments’s workfare scheme. The tactics were similar to how the electricians mobilised their support: ‘mob up’ outside the shop and cause as much lawful aggravation as possible to the employers and alert the local community that it is their kids who will be forced into slave-labour. This had some spectacular results, including the immediate withdrawal from the scheme by a number of stores.
I can speak in depth from the position of construction workers. It is in my opinion essential for communities to develop a construction workers union. Construction workers on contemporary building projects are not there long enough to be developed in the traditional manner of organised labour. Therefore new methods are needed, such as internet forums which provide a means of communication to alert people to what is happening locally and to build sectorial interest in construction.
Another example is using a high street shop that is run by trade unions as a community resource. Hubs can be set up in areas where there are traditions of trade union support and membership, or, in areas of Conservative control where neo-liberal local economics are advocated. When a construction union can be seen in the forefront of fighting for a local library or play ground, construction workers in that area will see that a construction union exists that is open to them, their families and the whole community. They see the relevance of the union for them and for working people.
It may be difficult for unions to link the fight in the workplace and bring the community on board. Traditionally unions have been seen as self interest groups and have operated in this tradition.
Many years ago I was attempting to organise unemployed workers with the help of the Transport & General Workers Union and a local official told me that it was the Transport Workers Union not the Unemployed Transport Workers union. Another argument when fighting for disabled people rights was “why should members’ money be spent on non members?”
When a union is declining they may want to hold on to their own finances. However this decline will not be halted unless we find alternatives to the traditional methods of growth. This is why investment should be made building community links.
Each union could look at how they can develop links in the communities that they operate in for. Trade unionists need to work out how their union can be visible in the community and develop a strategy of community involvement.
This is not about public sympathy it is about union solidarity, respecting picket lines, the public taking a side, supporters getting involved as well as trade union members such as: family days on the picket lines and closing down bailiff offices.
If union is active with a high profile in the community making demands then there will be greater participation and more victories for the working class.