Thursday, 19 July 2012

From Wiltshire Woman to Park Cakes, Oldham

Review of 'Trade Union Solidarity' - Spring Issue - 20-page A4 size jounal: Price £1: Inquires and subs. to ring Glen Burrows on 01278 450562

THE first issue of T.U. Solidarity appeared last Autumn at the time of the Manchester Tory Party Conference, with a picture of a woman from Wiltshire on the front cover, and the current issue has a lass from Birmingham, Becca Kirkpatrick, aged 28, a pugilist and female Jock McAvoy no less, illustrating the back cover.  Any magazine in the unions or on the Left these days, it seems, must consciously display a commitment to multiculturalism and gender balance.  In Solidarity magazine we have a range of photos of picket lines, because the editors have a policy of promoting the rank and file workers at the expense of the union officers.  Unfortunately, many ordinary workers don't appreciate this:  such as the woman I know at Park Cakes who turned Solidarity down flat when they approached her for an interview, because she was too frightened:  she told me that she didn't care about the Agency workers plight so long as the jobs of the permanent staff were safe. 

English workers are often shy when it comes to talking to the media, they also often distrust those who they see as 'troublemakers' on the shopfloor or in political parties.  These people crave a quiet life.  Thus, Solidarity had to get Julie Summersgill, the convenor of the Bakery, Food & Allied Union (BFAWU) at the Oldham factory of Park Cakes to give them an interview.

As luck has it, there are rank and file campaigns such as the Unite Rank & File Construction Workers, that contain activists who are less media shy.  Besides the article 'Rumble the Crumble: fighting the two-tier workforce at Park cakes' there is an article on the successful struggle against the attempt to impose new BESNA contracts in the building trade, which would have meant pay cuts for the workers.  The journal has a column interview with blacklisted electrician, Steve Kelly.

There are a few northern trade union branches and Trades' Councils  listed among the supporters of the Solidarity magazine, but the overwhelming majority are from down South, with a disproportionate number in the South West.  There is a noticeable lack of support in the North West, and this may indicate that Alex McFadden - the influential North West representative of the TUC JCC - is hostile to Solidarity

There's a northern interview with Brian Taylor of the Communication Workers' Union (CWU) at Capita India Mill, now a call centre in Darwen, Lancashire, where 80 workers went on strike in Autumn 2011 against a below inflation imposed pay rise.  We learn that Darwen and Blackburn belong to one of the most deprived areas in the country.  Brian Taylor tells us that only a minority of the 200 workforce are in the union, and of the pressure of the 70-second call targets, just as at Park cakes the workers fear that card-carrying union members will be victimised, and, he says, workers often join the union 'under the cloak of darkness'

The publication has no leader comment or editorial, so there is none of the preaching and party-lines one gets in other left-wing journals and sheets.  In this sense Solidarity is refreshingly free from people telling us what to think.  Hence, the journal is not a publication that treats its readers as cultural dopes:  its for mature workers not young students.  The contact editors are Dave Chapple in the South West, Shelia Cohen in London and Becca Kilpatrick in Birmingham:  if we were living in France we would describe these people as radical syndicalists; that is people who prioritise the trade union struggle for rights at work in preference to party politics and winning elections.  The trouble with British politics is that there are too many schoolmasters running the show, and it creates a form of politics that most ordinary English people either despise or can't relate to.  The language in Solidarity is straight-forward and clear, nowt fancy, it is shorn of slogans  Becca Kirkpatrick, the boxer, also refreshingly pays homage to 'agression (as) one of our vital tools (as trade unionists)' and thankfully, she is not proclaiming that dreadfully fashionable PC term 'assertiveness' in the workplace.

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