Community need to face the consequences

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.

17 comments on “Community need to face the consequences

  1. brianthedog on said:

    Just got informed of this as its doing the rounds in the Houses of Parliament amongst some Labour MP’s.

    Truly shocking, opportunistic scab behaviour.

  2. Karl Stewart on said:

    Disgraceful behaviour. And not the first time this organisation has acted in this way.

    As a GMB member myself, I think a formal complaint should be taken up with the TUC about this.

  3. Andy Newman on said:

    brianthedog: Just got informed of this as its doing the rounds in the Houses of Parliament amongst some Labour MP’s.

    I understand GMB has written to all Labour MPs about it

  4. I have now inserted a photo of the announcement from the employer. Note that all employees are enrolled, which will be free for 6 months.

    At the end of 6 months are they intending to deduct Community’s subs from wages by check off? If people haven’t individually and voluntarily joined and signed an authority, that would be an unlawful deduction of wages.

    Or are ASOS planning to pay people’s subscriptions indefinately, offering Community membership as a benefit in kind, in which case that would jeopardise Community’s status of independence with the Certification Officer

  5. Karl Stewart on said:

    I’ve been told this – and the previous outrageous sweetheart deal with Whistl/TNT a few years ago – is down to one particular individual officer with some kind of grudge against the trade union movement.

    I wonder what the steelworkers’ section of Community think of this?

  6. brianthedog on said:

    Karl Stewart,

    Les Bayliss National Officer of Community was previously under police investigation regarding large amounts of money and a charity he was involved with.

  7. The TUC need to take a much firmer line on things like this. Repeat offenders like Community need to be threatened with expulsion from the TUC. However, it’s not just “rogue” unions like Community who get up to this sort of thing. I have a friend who was organising a workplace, and getting close to 50% union density (enough to get RMT recognised) and the management out of the blue cut a recognition deal with Unite (this was pre-McClusky when that was the conservative option). It happens far too often, and can lead to serious divisions in the workforce. The danger is that some who have been organised by GMB, and are loyal to them, remain members of that union, others join Community, and when there’s a dispute they can’t/won’t work together.

  8. brianthedog on said:

    Tim N,

    This would be by any chance anything to do London Buses and Trams which is and has been always T&G?Unite sphere of influence as there were attempts of poaching by the RMT?

    When this was finally resolved and the RMT backed off the some of the workers then got involved with the Workers of England Union which has links with the far right.

  9. brianthedog on said:

    Tim N,

    This wouldn’t by any chance have anything to do London Buses and Trams.

    This is and has always been a T&G then Unite sphere of influence and there were attempts of poaching by the RMT in recent years whilst the late great Bob Crow was GS.

    When this was finally resolved and the RMT backed off then some of the workers got involved with the Workers of England Union which has links with the far right.

    Inter-union rivalry occasionally happens (either by an opportunistic officer or a small group of disgruntled members) and when it does it more often than not only benefits the boss.

    However the ASOS situation goes way beyond this and is a new low.

    Don’t hold your breath about the TUC doing anything substantial about this.

  10. brianthedog: Tim N,

    This wouldn’t by any chance have anything to do London Buses and Trams.

    This is and has always been a T&G then Unite sphere of influence and there were attempts of poaching by the RMT in recent years whilst the late great Bob Crow was GS.

    When this was finally resolved and the RMT backed off then some of the workers got involved with the Workers of England Union which has links with the far right.

    Inter-union rivalry occasionally happens (either by an opportunistic officer or a small group of disgruntled members) and when it does it more often than not only benefits the boss.

    However the ASOS situation goes way beyond this and is a new low.

    Don’t hold your breath about the TUC doing anything substantial about this.

    No, it was in the West Country , but yes it was to do with the buses. Can’t really comment on whether it was a poaching attempt by the RMT, but yeah most of the local depots were organised by the T&G (and one of the reasons the RMT was gaining traction in that particular workplace was because T&G had historically been quite poor in the area).

  11. brianthedog: Inter-union rivalry occasionally happens (either by an opportunistic officer or a small group of disgruntled members) and when it does it more often than not only benefits the boss.

    That is why I contexualised the whole discussion with the question of what makes organisation stronger. I have experienced situations where groups of workers have come to GMB, even when another union is already in that workplace, because the union already there has – for example – turned them away (saying they don’t recruit agency workers), or refused to take up their issue (union reps or officials in collusion with management).

    There are occasions where a group of workers wants trade union support, cannot get one union to take up their issues, and will go elsewhere. The alternative to looking elsewhere might be having a fight with both the bosses and the union, which they cannot win.

    If people joining an alternative union improves organisation, and leads to a succesful campaign and victory at the expense of the bosses then more power to them.

    This is exactly the opposite of what Community have done, where they have sought to weaken organisation and derail a campaign

  12. Andy Newman: This is exactly the opposite of what Community have done, where they have sought to weaken organisation and derail a campaign

    Yeah, this doesn’t seem to be the usual border war between rival unions so much as a union collaborating with the bosses in breaking a unionisation campaign. In this context, Community are playing the role of a Bosses Union.

  13. Pete Jones on said:

    I believe Community stitched up Unite in a similar way when they were organising in the NSPCC, a couple of years back. The TUC needs to sort them out.