The criterion for success for any trade union campaign is whether or not it leaves organisation weaker or stronger.
A hundred years ago, the German socialist, Rosa Luxemburg, observed that trade union organisation was a “labour of Sisyphus”, comparing it to the mythological figure who was doomed to an eternity of pushing a rock up hill, only for it to roll back to the bottom each time.
It is certainly true that the nature of capitalist competition between companies means that the commercial context that businesses operate in is always changing, and that in the final analysis there is a conflict of interest between employers who wish to get more work for less money, and employees who wish to be treated with dignity and respect, and to be paid a fair wage. In that respect no negotiated deal is ever final, and the process of industrial relations is never ending.
However, unlike Sisyphus, trade unions can grow and become stronger through that process. It is through the very process of collectively organizing around grievances, or campaigning to improve pay and terms and conditions, through using creative collective pressure to impose upon employers, that trade union capacity is built. As trade union members step forward to be shop stewards to organize and persuade their work colleagues, as they educate and inform themselves, and become educated by their union, as they share experience and network with other activists, participating in the democratic processes of their union, then that builds capacity and workplace strength.
It is by this standard that we should judge the decision by Community, the relatively small union with its historical base in Iron and Steel, to sign a single union sweetheart deal with ASOS, and XPO logistics, who have been the focus of a campaign by GMB for the last two years.
Organisation at the Barnsley distribution centre has been built by GMB. It is GMB who have a network of stewards and activists. Community has nothing.
The most bizarre aspect is that reportedly, ASOS has signed all of their staff into membership of Community, with the subscriptions free for six months. Individual members have to inform HR if they wish to leave. Clearly, it is no longer lawful for an employer to require a member of staff to be a member of a particular union, which explains why individuals are being given the option of leaving.
But at the end of the six month period, what will happen?
Community’s collusion with ASOS to seek to derail the GMB’s campaign is frankly scabbing. Just as EETPU were expelled from the TUC for organizing TNT workers at Wapping to empower a scab operation to break the print unions, Community have stepped over the line, and should face the consequences.