Thursday, 18 October 2007

Rank and file - Part 1

The rank and file proposition for a more flexible and effective union action has been posed in the UK for some time now.

In some countries, rank and file unions take the form of groups which do not depend on the will of deliberations of committees who share agendas undersigned with the government currently in power, but which operate on a principle; that the members are united by the same conditions.

In other nations, rank and file operate from within the same union which is an amass of millions of people. In other instances they are the only group in existence to defend workers rights and interests. But let's see in much more detail how rank and file differs in perspectives and attempt to identify how the base of university workers in the UK can be unionized in order to contain alienation and augment a class battle against the offence of global capital in education.

Rank and file think of the day-today operations and address the unfolding situations with an active involvement of the members. Sometimes the most radical and ideological sectors of the mainstream unions become empty to give form to a new group of actions for extra-parliamentary debate.

Spontaneity is what characterizes rank and file unions and most of such groups of actions are bred out of discontent with current conduct of mainstream unions and do not want to share a political agenda with the current government in power.

Such are the motivations behind the most radical rank and file unionized groups. UCU is notimmune to pressures of rank and file. The themes have been discussed for some time now, out of the typical and official networks.

There has been criticism from the Socialist Workers Party, others have called for the birth of rank and file in UCU.

Are the rank and file so vital for the normal running of a union? The Socialist Workers Online seem to be convinced of this. For them, the union is an organization with internal contradiction due to the contended nature of the organization. They quite convincingly argue that unions are big containers to form broad coalitions gathered around agendas-of-the-moment. However, such coalitions are quite volatile and do not give stability; being constituted around political agendas which can be undermined by the opposition quite easily.

Lacking a coherent program to be supported, it becomes difficult to sustain a campaign effectively. This is not the case for isolated campaigns where objectives are clear and unequivocal under the domain of the public opinion, due to media coverage. The Socialist Workers online sustain that rank and file are useful for the so-called unofficial actions which are such an important part of the working class struggle; mostly to defend workplace conditions.

I am of the suggestion that such a view is reductive. Rank and file are not just members of this or that union who do not have a fixed role to play and as such they help with the running of the union at the base, whilst officials preen themselves in their rarefied world. Things at the base move, not in flux but engaging with what really matters to the rank and file. Events unfold rapidly, athough what is required of them is more of an operational nature.

Such events are perhaps linked to choices made in the first place at the higher ranks where
the air is so thin that they would surely suffocate.

Condition unites rank and file. Not just a temporary political agenda or the next electoral campaign, but something that feels like being a 'rank and file'. A condition shared within the base for the class battle and the struggle of the workers against the capital offensive. Such offensive is becoming day by day, always more and more aggressive and felt by University workers, who find now themselves vulnerable to the attacks of Labour government over the precious rights granted to them.

UCU is watching all this happening and passively introducing ludicrous policies which do not contain the capital offensive and augment the role of the government in submitting university workers to the needs of its agenda on globalization of education.

Most of these attacks are on academic freedom, health and safety, work stability, curriculum and intellectual ownership. The recent attacks on academic freedom in the UK have been extensively documented.

Many organizations, mainly being part of subgroups of work of the UCU are containing such offensive although a more vigorous and immediate response from the base is needed. Rank and file are at the base: they are where the breaches of contract by universities can be rejected and counterattacked by re-establishing the balance of power between the capital so much defended and promoted by VCs, PVCs and Deans and the labour by the Base. Such offensive can be contained through the dissemination of self-organized groups of action, working at the Base.


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