First published as a pamphlet in September 1973.
Reprinted in Tony Cliff, In the Thick of Workers’ Struggle, Selected Works Vol.2, Bookmarks, London 2002, pp.339-67.
Transcribed by Artroom, East End Offset (TU), London.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Factory branches are an innovation for revolutionary socialists in this country. For over a generation the revolutionary movement has had too tiny a foothold in the working class to contemplate building party branches in places of work. Our own experience is very limited. The factory branches we have – some 32 at the time of writing – have existed for a few weeks or days only. This pamphlet, which is the fruit of the collective effort of a number of comrades, tentatively aims to make some general observations and point out some immediate practical steps that will hopefully be of some help to comrades organised in factory branches or engaged in building them. After a few more months of experience we will no doubt be able to revise the pamphlet and sharpen its conclusions. The pamphlet intentionally does not try to present the material in elegant form, nor generalise further than our shallow, patchy and uneven experience would allow us to do satisfactorily. We need to face up to the problems as realistically as possible, without flannelling and without evasion. Criticism, suggestions for additions and amendments, will be welcomed. And life itself will of course be the best teacher.
Workers’ power lies mainly in the factories, docks and other places of work. A revolutionary socialist organisation must be built not as a collection of local branches, but as a union of factory branches. It can lead the decisive sections of the working class if it has strong party branches in the factories, especially the big ones.
The factory branch will be responsible for carrying the party’s policy to the workers in the factory, on all current questions, as well as on the party’s long term programme, thus ensuring the unity in action of its immediate and final aims. The factory branch should be the driving force in raising the class consciousness of the workers round it, developing their political education, their organisation, their initiative, enthusiasm and fighting ability, so that from the factory they are drawn into the struggle of the working class as a whole.
Factory branches should organise the vanguard of the working class at the point of production. The factory is the best centre of the organisation of the working class in struggle, not only in the factory itself, but around it.
The factory branch should consist of the party members employed at the same place, in which they represent the party as a whole. The branch is not simply a collection of individuals who hold the same views, who merely meet to discuss points that especially interest them. The members have a collective responsibility to win the workers in their place of work to the party policy as a whole.
In many places of work we have an individual member or couple of members. In practically all factories that are not too small, pits, depots or workshops, it is possible and necessary to build IS branches. To overcome many existing obstacles, a correct political appraisal is necessary, and persevering collective effort by individual members, the local branch and the district organisation.
First of all, a factory branch has to unite the socialists, the militants in the factory. In every place of work the real socialists are few in number. They are isolated, often feel depressed and suffer from a volatility of mood. Frequently one socialist militant does not even know the others in the same factory. The IS branch aims to bring them together. Though one finger may be weak, five fingers make a fist.
Second, the factory branch will relate the advanced socialists to the majority of the workers. If there are 1,000 workers in a factory, in all probability there will be a tiny minority of scabs at one extreme and a tiny group of militant socialists at the other. Between them stands the big majority – not right wing but simply an uninformed conservative mass. The IS branch, with the help of leaflets, bulletins and the rank and file papers relevant to the industry, will try to influence the mass of workers in the factory.
Third, the factory branch has to hold regular meetings to plan the fight for resolutions and policies that are laid down by the national organisation. This could mean, for example, a pledge of solidarity strikes with any worker arrested under the Industrial Relations Act or campaigns against the Tory Housing Finance Act.
Fourth, the branch has to hold regular meetings to discuss how IS members should fight for shop stewardships and other important positions and delegations in and from the factory.
Fifth, the branch has to hold regular political meetings to discuss a basic education programme and current events, features in Socialist Worker, International Socialism journal or any other publications of the International Socialists.
A central theme of the work of the factory branch must be the attempt to win the leadership of the workers in the factory.
For this it is necessary for the branch to get to know the facts about the factory, its links with other plants in the same empire or other empires, its profits, its directors and their fees, donations to the Tory party, etc, how many workers (skilled and unskilled), women, youth, etc, are employed, to what trade unions they belong, the wages structure prevailing, etc, etc.
After acquiring this basic knowledge the branch can begin to work out a policy for the factory which will take into account the immediate problems facing the workers there, and relate them to the general industrial and political policies of IS. Such a policy should become a guide to the branch in the development of its work.
Every factory branch should produce a programme for the factory, to be reproduced in every issue of the factory bulletin.
There is fantastic unevenness between our factory branches in terms of their possibilities of taking over the leadership of the factory in the foreseeable future, or even in their ability to seriously influence the actions of many workers.
To give a few examples. On the one hand, out of the 8,000 workers in Rowntree’s factory in York we have a factory branch consisting entirely of young, as yet inexperienced workers. The workforce is organised mainly in the GMWU, a union that holds very infrequent branch meetings. Just under half are part time women workers who work either mornings, afternoons or evenings. The factory has no militant tradition at all; it has had only one strike that lasted more than a few days – a five-week strike of fitters in 1972. Shopfloor meetings called by shop stewards are rare and not every shift has a shop steward. In the last series of elections, all the shifts did not even get a chance to vote.
There are a number of other IS factory branches of a similar nature.
On the other hand, we have the CA Parsons factory branch in Newcastle where we have the majority on the 13-man negotiating committee. Individual members of the branch have impressive records of leading successful disputes, some of which have been very long and difficult – e.g. 15 weeks struggle for increased holidays, 13 weeks for 100 percent union membership, six weeks of occupation during several months of fighting off massive redundancies.
While our comrades in Rowntree’s, York, however vivid their imaginations, could not think of taking the lead in their factory in the foreseeable future, others, like our comrades in Standard Triumph, Merseyside, could write in their report, “We believe that within 18 months we should be in a position of strength on the shop stewards committee, and be able to take a decisive lead.”
It is obvious that in order to become the leadership of the factory IS members must fight for shop stewardships. However, in doing so, big differences between the situations in the different factories need to be recognised. It is not only that our comrades in CA Parsons will find the going much easier than in Rowntree’s, but there are also many varieties of interrelation between shop stewards and the active militancy of the rank and file. To take an example – Chrysler Ryton factory.
Ryton employs about 4,000 workers. None of the shop stewards work on the job. This is not, by and large, for the best of reasons – that they are all too busy taking up union business. It is generally because the management has encouraged them to stay off the job. The shop stewards act like their counterparts in American car factories. In the United States the shop steward has been so well integrated into the official union machine and into management that he is, in the words of a UAW leader, “the policeman on the beat” (Sunday Times, 9 February 1969).
The combination of “measured day work” (MDW), which helps integrate many of the stewards into the company, and the fact that the basis of the factory is a track sensitive to minor disputes, means there is rank and file activity which takes place independently of the stewards. In the body shop in particular, stoppages occur without any lead from the stewards. This means that when we say we have no stewards amongst our 11 members this is not so disastrous as may apply elsewhere. During the most recent strike it was the initiative of our members that created the Ryton Action Group, that initiated the flying pickets, picketing the engine factory at Stoke instead of Ryton, thus making a much more crippling impact on the Chrysler empire as a whole.
The shop stewards were dragged behind the men. Of course this should not be interpreted to mean that IS members should not fight for stewardship in Ryton. On the contrary. If our members were stewards they would prove in practice that they could use the office for leading a militant struggle.
Again, in Albion Motors, which employs some 3,500 workers, our members have no stewardships, but this did not prevent them from playing a considerable role in what happened in the factory recently. The report on the Albion factory branch says, “Just before the holiday two weeks ago the shop stewards finally recommended specific MDW proposals to the workers at a mass meeting. Four of our members spoke (one of them was denounced as being IS) and were instrumental in securing a 60-40 rejection of the proposals – in which rejections they were considerably aided by the production of a bulletin just prior to the decision.”
The variety of problems is practically as great as the number of factory branches. Sometimes even winning the major influence in the shop stewards committee poses new, much greater difficulties. What use can we make of control of the shop stewards committee in a small factory which is part of a large combine? Having a very strong position in a small, but – in terms of the car industry – quite important, coil spring factory – Woodheads, Ossett – is a cul-de-sac. Hence our comrades initiated the Combine Committee for the five factories in the Woodhead empire, started a monthly Combine bulletin, and have a major influence in editing this organ.
Whether our members have control over the shop stewards committee, a foothold in it, or no influence at all, and whatever the short term prospects, the principle dominating their work in the factory should be the same: to increase the participation of workers in determining their activities – for mass meetings and shop meetings to decide policy, and to mandate shop stewards and delegates. Obviously we would prefer to be in a minority getting, say, 100 votes among 500 workers at a meeting, to an IS majority of seven among ten workers coming to a meeting.
(The IS factory branch’s role of raising the consciousness, the self-activity and organisation of workers at their place of work distinguishes it from the Communist Party factory branches. Those that exist – a remnant of a much broader movement decades ago – are reformist; they exist to manipulate workers either in support of the “left” trade union bureaucrats during elections, or as a reserve army for the parliamentary electoral activity of the party. For lack of space we cannot elaborate; a single instance will have to serve to show the difference between IS factory branches and the CP’s branches: the former will try to involve workers in the anti-racist campaign against the recent House of Lords decision on black immigrants; the CP branches will see in this only a diversion from the real important job of winning votes in the elections of full time officials in the unions.)
We now have a number of industrial branches not based on a single place of work, which present a number of difficult problems. In a factory branch we have a clear perspective of work; this is not the case in an industrial branch. As a matter of fact the variation between industrial branches is so great as to make it necessary to describe at least a few of them.
The Merseyside building workers’ branch has 12 members. The report from the branch describes the situation thus:
As the branch is only newly established, it is still trying to mould the branch to suit all the members, and as one glance at our membership will show, this is going to be a difficult task.
At the present our work falls into two fairly distinct areas – the building trades (UCATT and TGWU) and the subcontracting specialists (EETPU, H&D, etc). Although these two areas are related in some ways, their separateness leads to a drastic stretching of our slender resources. Other problems which we face also tend to weaken our overall effect. Such problems as short term periods of unemployment which are endemic in the industry, added to the acute regional problem of unemployment in some trades (mainly in the direct building trades, UCATT and TGWU), mean that inevitably some of our members are unemployed. Also the multiplicity of union branches (there are up to 50 building trade union branches on Merseyside alone, and probably 20 UCATT branches and a dozen TGWU branches) only exaggerates our own fragmentation inside the unions and the trades as a whole. Often our members are forced to fight alone in their branches, but confronted by a considerable number of CPers.
The Merseyside district organiser commented on the subject:
We tried to overcome this by recommending that as many of the members as possible try and get work on the same site, but unemployment in the industry as a whole is making this nigh on impossible to implement. Of course we keep on trying but with so many branch members unrelated to struggle it also means that trade union work is not a satisfactory substitute. They can’t really lead in their union, not only because of CP dominance but above all because they never lead on site.
The branch has a large percentage of its members unemployed. Those that are at work are, with one exception, all on small sites or in situations (new jobs, etc) where they have to be extremely careful about their politics and views. These problems are exaggerated by the fact that a number of the branch members are labourers and therefore without any special skills. Because of heavy unemployment in the Merseyside area among this category, and some hints of victimisation and blacklisting for a couple, it all means that their chance to take the lead on the sites is very flimsy indeed.
Then we have the London hospital workers’ branch, described in the following terms: “The main problem of the branch is that it is an anomaly. It differs from the other functional branches in the area in that it covers such an immense geographical area. For example, it could cost some comrades up to 50p to attend a branch meeting.” In addition there is no concentration in one particular place of work. The most members in any one hospital is two (St Leonard’s):
The geographical problem has meant several things. The older, in terms of length of membership, members tend to dominate the branch. They have got into the habit of attending meetings, long boring ones at that. They are the ones prepared to go to any meeting. The newer members can fit in a few meetings but not all of them. Because it is the more conservative, petty bourgeois members who like meetings, several decisions have been taken regarding the branch. They agreed to have a host of meetings. In each month there could be a business meeting, a public meeting, two education meetings, and two meetings of the All London Health Workers’ Alliance to go to. Some of the older members tend to think that because some comrades can’t make all these meetings they aren’t proper members. At one stage one of the hospital workers complained that all the branch did was meet – it didn’t do anything. The problem of geography and meetings has meant that it is difficult to get all the subs in and also to distribute the paper.
The Leeds hospital workers’ branch has many similarities, but also important differences, to the London hospital workers’ branch. In Leeds we have 16 members (14 hospital workers and two non-hospital workers, helping in the work of the branch). Of the 14, nine are in one hospital, St James’s, of whom two are NUPE shop stewards. The concentration of the majority of members in one hospital makes the Leeds branch much more of a factory branch than the London branch.
Again, in the Oxford hospital workers’ branch we have six members, all members of the same NUPE branch, all working for the same management group, and five working in the same hospital.
(By the way, one issue connected specifically with hospital branches is: should the branch include only ancillary workers, or also nurses and doctors? If the decision is to include all who work in hospitals, we must make sure that: (1) ancillary workers become the big majority in the branch; (2) the leaders and spokesmen of the branch should be the ancillary workers.)
Then we have the Leyland workers’ branch in Coventry, another kind of hybrid. Here our members, half white collar, half shopfloor workers, are spread among six of the 11 Leyland factories in the city. Up to now the common activity of our members has been around the Leyland Action Group, which is described in a report from Coventry:
It is a white collar group with a considerable base – taken into eight of 11 factories, with branches, convenors and one JSSC supporting it and giving cash. For the first bulletin four times the cost was collected. More recruits are coming through this – also a couple of shopfloor members are on the way. The main problem is going to be holding together a ramshackle empire. It holds no public meetings but regular business meetings.
The industrial branch is a compromise forced on us – what we want is separate branches for every place of work.
In Coventry Leyland the branch is clearly a halfway house. As Leyland employs over 20,000 workers in the town we aim within the not too distant future to produce separate factory bulletins associated with the building of separate factory branches.
In Leeds hospital workers’ branch the aim should be to build a separate St James’s Hospital branch and see if any similar branches can be built elsewhere (although the going will undoubtedly be rough, and the time probably long). The same applies to our Oxford hospital workers’ branch.
In the London hospital workers’ branch, after a number of trials and tribulations, the following were the conclusions reached in the report on the branch:
It has been stressed that the main responsibility of members is to concentrate on their own and neighbouring hospitals with the aim of calling four local public meetings quite soon. This has enthused the new comrades again – the fact that they can have a meeting to which they can bring their mates. When a few people have been recruited at these meetings, it will then be possible to split the branch into two or three.
A further point is that with a branch of this sort it is difficult to talk specifically about the different workplaces and different problems in the branch as such. You need to spend a lot of time talking to the comrades individually. Should the venture have been started? Despite the problems I think yes. We have been able to orient the comrades on the workplace more than in a geographical branch. We have also been able to keep a few comrades in the group who might have left. But if we have to do this again we must watch certain points more closely. It needs to be emphasised to the comrades much more from the start that the branch is only temporary and that their task is to split up into several branches as quickly as possible. The danger is that it’s easy to say that we’ve got our own branch, now the problems are over, all we have to do is consolidate. Again it was a mistake to try to hold central branch public meetings. People will just not come unless they already know a lot about the organisation (i.e. should have been recruited long ago).
Edinburgh building workers’ branch faced the same danger of an industrial branch turning in on itself. Their report says:
One of our first mistakes was either collectively or individually to use the branch as a buffer. The feeling was, “Well, we have our own building workers’ branch, so there!” This was raised at our last meeting from which came the decision that everyone bring along a close contact. We have realised the danger of not growing fast enough. Also we realised that we are a transitional branch. Because of the nature of the building industry it is difficult to set up site branches.
The difficulties of building real workplace branches require a major effort in many directions:
The building workers’ fraction needs a regular bulletin (or the IS Internal Bulletin needs to be transformed into something more beneficial to its industrial members). Many more pamphlets relevant to specific fractions need to be published – Socialist Worker and the rank and file papers are the best stuff we have and are responsible for the development of our work. If we had more of this sort of stuff, our growth would be that much quicker and better.
Because of the lack of any real fraction organisation, the branch is now taking upon itself the task of writing and producing some basic pamphlets that we feel are necessary. Already we have made a start on one dealing with the proposed re-structuring of the industry. Others being contemplated are on the Lump, and the need for a rank and file building workers’ movement. However, our ability to bridge the credibility gap is restricted.
Let us sum up. Factory branches is a misnomer for many of the branches we have formed. For many the term industrial branch would be better. This distinction is important for a variety of reasons, and isn’t purely a question of semantics. A factory branch, however weak it might be, is a clear declaration of strength. Even if we only have youngsters at the moment, it still is the embryo of a future alternative leadership. Without underestimating the real difficulties which lie in our path, at least here the perspective is clear. The industrial branches, although they may subjectively, in terms of our past, represent a newly acquired strength, are in fact an admission of objective weakness – our inability to form workplace branches in these instances, and our need to group our militants together. They will be much more problematic institutions in the long run than the former.
Again we have in some way an in between institution, say the GKN branch or the Coventry Leyland branch, based on workplaces but not a single workplace. Here the perspective must be to a number of branches based on individual workplaces. We must guard against the mechanical application of this rule to some industrial branches. To push the London hospitals’ branch, for example, along the same perspective might well prove disastrous, in terms of the disillusionment created by the objective difficulties.
Again we must not be blinded by apparent similarities. There is in reality a world of difference between a York bus workers’ branch and a north London one. The geographical scale of operations, total workforce, etc, are all elements to be taken into account.
Industrial branches pose very intractable problems. One cannot be sure that they can survive for any length of time. The matter needs to be more deeply considered. The rank and file papers, the unions, etc can provide a focus in the absence of the place of work. However, the branches should be interventionist – factory ones will almost inevitably be. Industrial ones can sustain themselves on growth for a period, but if they do not become based on workplaces, and in the absence of a generalised struggle (national strike or whatever) their outlook is grim.
To the extent that the members of industrial branches work in the trade union structure, they have many ties connecting them with members of factory branches, as well as working members of area branches.
Due to the correct emphasis on rank and file work, in some cases IS members tend to neglect the work in the trade union branch. To overcome this the following measures are vital:
(1) Regular attendance at trade union branches – make sure every member is in a branch, that the district knows where every member is, and that what we do there is discussed. For example, in a factory where we have no stewards it may be useful to have a TGWU subs collector so a comrade can move about the factory. Every member must have a copy of the union constitution, must be provided with resolutions (and arguments) to move, and shown how to move them.
(2) Push for positions – especially branch secretary, obviously, but also trades council (fairly easy), district committee, as well as minor branch posts, e.g. subs collector, etc. Try to transform the branch, eg by having outside speakers or a branch bulletin.
(3) All industrial members (and others) should push for trades council positions even though the trades council is often a paper organisation. The trades council can be a valuable basis for other work.
(4) It will prove generally impossible to have regular meetings of members of union fractions due to pressure of work so there must be a local union fraction secretary to coordinate things. As far as resolutions are concerned, one branch has started a regular discussion on district committee of basic resolutions, etc once a month plus a report-back – about three weeks before each meeting.
To give some examples of what can be done with influence in trade union branches, trades councils, etc:
The Coventry district organiser writes:
The trades council has 22 IS delegates which on many issues gives us control. Thus it has organised a public meeting on the Birmingham building workers and conspiracy laws, and is organising a large one on the House of Lords’ immigration decision. We can normally make sure one of the speakers is an IS member.
One of the main problems facing the coordination and work of the factory branch is the prevalence of the shift system.
The report of Scottish and Newcastle Breweries (Tyne Brewery) describes the difficulty: “The five members we have are on three different shifts, and the only feasible time for meetings is at the weekend.”
From Linwood we get the following: “The biggest problem will be the meeting time of the branch because of four or five different shift patterns being worked. We hope to resolve this by having Saturday morning branch meetings – although here again we have to try to avoid clashing with Saturday stewards’ meetings (monthly), to ensure the branch is serviced and helped with the education programme.”
The report from Monkbridge, Leeds, says:
It has taken us three weeks to get a satisfactory meeting at which we laid down the bones upon which we are to develop the muscles of a very strong organisation. We are drawing up a roster of all the shifts we will be working over the next two months. This will be continued over the following two months, and so on. This will assist us in organising the sale of Socialist Worker, develop the habit of getting to work early to have a chat to the members going home, and pick up any news of what is going on in the factory.
It will also enable us to see clearly when it is most convenient to call meetings and at what time of day. We are organising a locked drawer in which messages, money for subs, Socialist Worker sales, etc. can be left. The Socialist Worker organiser will leave lists of readers for each shift and it will be the responsibility of the members on that shift to make the sale.
The frequency of branch meetings is very different in the different branches. Thus from Coventry we get the following report: “Chrysler meetings are monthly (except emergencies) on Saturday mornings. Leyland meetings are fortnightly on Sunday evenings. Ford’s meetings are at 7.30 p.m. on Tuesdays.”
Another way of dealing with the question of shift work was taken by the Teesside steel branch. It may be of some use to other IS factory branches if we recount the story, as told in its report:
Up to now we have kept a record of each member’s shift rota and called meetings at the time when least members were at work. This meant meeting on different days of the week and at different times of day. We have now decided to meet on alternate Thursdays. We meet formally for 1½-2 hours and most members stay for a drink and a chat afterwards unless they have to go to work. We have to do this because members may come in from work very late and are likely to be put off if everyone else has gone home.
Where the shift system makes coordination difficult, the help of IS members from outside the factory may be vital. Thus the report on Linwood and Albion Motors says, “Both branches have been allocated one or two other comrades to attend branch meetings in a non-voting capacity to coordinate servicing and to provide any needed ‘external’ political initiative.”
Similarly, the Monkbridge branch decided to elect as its secretary a housewife, who is available by phone most of the time. (Of course in the long run the best solution for factory branches where the Continental shift system or other complicated shift system prevails is to build shift branches – but that is the music of the future!)
Meticulous care is necessary in the organisation of meetings. It is very important that they should be short and businesslike with a definite time of closure. The main purpose of every meeting should be political education, not only on the general situation, but the application of party policy to the branch’s factory. Part of the meeting can be given over to formal political education based on a definite syllabus. Sympathetic workers should be invited to the meetings.
There is need for a proper agenda for factory branch meetings. A suggestion is:
Detailed business, such as subs payment, literature distribution and money, etc, should not take place at a branch meeting, but should be done at other times, through subs collectors, literature organisers, etc.
The branch secretary should prepare the agenda beforehand, should draw the conclusions from the discussion, and record decisions, including the names of those responsible for carrying them out.
In planning, care must be taken to avoid overloading members with meetings – which is disastrous. Even after severe pruning of the number of public meetings (only monthly branch meetings), one finds that “a typical Chrysler member may have the following in a month: two trade union branch meetings, one IS branch meeting, one IS industrial aggregate, two Action Group meetings, two education meetings, plus any district committee, branch committee, Carworker, extra meetings. And all this is really the minimum.”
In a factory branch, even more than in a territorial one, the role of leadership, of clear political and organisational guidance, is central to the effectiveness of the work. In a territorial branch, because of the multiplicity of jobs to do, the failure of one comrade or one activity will have a less damaging effect than a similar failure in a factory branch, whose cohesion is potentially much greater, but where the different activities are much more intimately integrated. The technical difficulties of organisation – the shift system, above all – will require the strictest punctuality, the clearest division of labour, the utmost sense of responsibility and regular checking that decisions have been carried out.
It is important that every member has a job to do: Socialist Worker or pamphlets to sell, meetings to attend, his own contacts to see. In a revolutionary party there is no rank and file. Every member must be a leader. Hence every member must get on top of the job.
To facilitate this they must get day to day instructions from the branch regarding their activities – not merely general instruction – and their actual work has to be supervised by the branch. Every activity must be tested by its results. Results mean the demonstrable increase of IS influence in the working class, whether by increase of membership, increase of Socialist Worker readership, or the securing of control of working class organisations.
The branch officers should include the maximum number of members. Thus in the Chrysler branch, Coventry, the following officers were elected – chairman, secretary, treasurer, Socialist Worker organiser, Carworker organiser, Socialist Worker sellers, subs collectors and Carworker sellers on each shift at each factory. All these officerships are coordinated through the branch committee.
IS branches in factories differ in size and face different shift systems, hence one should not be dogmatic about the desirable structure and working of the branch. Our experience is also much too limited. Even within a few days structures and emphasis of work will change. The one thing that simply cannot be afforded is a situation in which for fear of “losing face” comrades will not be prepared to reverse a decision made at a previous meeting.
One office that every factory branch should have is that of membership secretary. This is to see that each member reports the names of those he is seeking to win for the organisation, and these names should be frequently reviewed. Every member must be on the lookout for those workers who argue for our politics or are active for them.
While the main job of the members of the factory branch is to recruit in their own place of work, they should not lose opportunities for winning new members for IS in their trade union branch or among workers in other factories whom they can meet. The factory branch should list such factories, and allot responsibility for making contacts and members among the workers there. Such responsibility may be given to an existing factory branch if suitably situated, or to the local branch, or to an individual member of IS, or to a team of factory workers from existing factory branches.
Methods of establishing personal contacts include striking up an acquaintance with workers in the factory during the meal break or when leaving work, or in the buses, the pubs and clubs, or in the trade union branch or trades council. The important thing is to get one IS branch or one comrade to make the connections – then a way will be found.
One of the main weapons in the hands of the factory branch to spread IS policies, and attract workers towards the organisation and recruit them, is Socialist Worker. Selling the paper and writing reports for it, being interviewed by the paper’s journalists, will make the paper more and more central to the life of the advanced section of the working class, and will attract advanced workers into IS.
Workers’ letters to Socialist Worker can play a particularly important role. Letters telling of grievances or relating incidents as they occur, taken together, constitute a picture of workers’ lives and can be of great agitational value. The factory branch should see to it that articles and letters are sent to the paper regularly.
A way of creating a bridge to workers in the factory to facilitate their recruitment to IS is the regular collection of donations to Socialist Worker. A fighting fund for the paper can play an important role in building IS.
In these ways Socialist Worker can become not only the best agitator for IS but also the best organiser.
(1) Every industrial member should have the perspective of forming a factory branch.
(2) But, when there are two members, regular but probably informal discussions should take place round the problems: (a) to whom can we sell Socialist Worker next? (It is important to think of a sale in ones and twos, not a mass sale which may be counter-productive. This builds the confidence of the shy or inexperienced. (b) is there one fellow worker we can spot as a potential recruit?
(3) When we have three we are in business. This can be the nucleus of a new branch. Regular and more formal chats should take place – once a week at dinner time, for instance – with the two basic questions from (2), plus, who can we invite to a regular Socialist Worker discussion group? It is important to stress – think “small”, don’t overreach and risk demoralisation.
(4) At this stage, and up to the actual formation of a factory branch, it is important to stress the need for integration into some wider “grouping” of the organisation – e.g. geographical branch, a local industrial fraction, education group, etc., because:
(5) The timing of the move from nucleus to branch is of crucial importance. If the move is made too quickly the risk of a setback is high. But we must recognise that to put it firmly on the agenda can bring a qualitative change in the approach and enthusiasm of the members. For all the reasons of vulnerability and instability underlined in the section “Factory Branch Organisation”, we should perhaps aim at eight members (even ten) before recognition. We can be flexible. In a very small workplace – say a small drawing office – perhaps necessity dictates a smaller number, but in most places of 500-plus why not eight or ten?
(6) All of this throws special responsibilities onto geographical branches and district committees to take full responsibility for assisting comrades in these situations. Perhaps districts should look at nuclei of branches in a very similar way to established branches.
Often the large factory can be a centre for rallying the working people in a whole area. The party branch in the factory must not only be directly responsible for mobilising that factory round the party policy, but also play its part in moving the workers of the whole town or district round it.
There is no Chinese wall separating the factory from the world outside it – factory workers do not live in a world cut off from life in the surrounding area. Local issues such as rents, fares, social services, etc affect them, being in fact disguised wage cuts. Hence the factory branch has to relate to all these and similar issues. Above all, racism as a weapon in the hands of the employers must be combated inside the factory and in its neighbourhood.
Where one large enterprise dominates a whole district the connection between what happens inside and outside the factory is particularly vital.
One field in which the factory branch should play an integral role in the district is in the local campaigns. Thus we read in a report on work against racism in the Coventry area, in addition to a district industrial meeting to be addressed by George Peake, to be held this month, the following measures have been taken: resolutions through trade union branches, getting people to meetings, selling Chingari, selling the Foot pamphlet on racism (1,000 ordered), inviting speakers to trade union branches and the trades council.
Tickets should be sold inside the factory for all the big public meetings and events organised by IS on a district or local scale. This is particularly so for rallies and demonstrations, and should be an important means of strengthening IS in the factory on the one hand, and in contributing to the effectiveness of the rally on the other.
There is a need also to develop new forms of meetings, perhaps combined with social activities, in order to get over the problem of workers living in widely separated places, and enable the comrades to bring their wives along.
The initiative should be taken in organising factory gate meetings, lunchtime discussions, public meetings and collections for strikes. In this connection it is encouraging to read in the report of the CAV Acton factory branch:
We organised a meeting with stewards from Perkins Engines. This was an open-air meeting at dinnertime which attracted 100-150 workers (organised officially by Carworker). £10 was collected for Perkins. At a further meeting in the evening a steward from the toolroom appeared with a further £11 collected in his shop that afternoon. The meeting embarrassed the factory leadership and gave a big boost to us. This is the type of activity we want to repeat.
As the organisational interrelationship between the IS factory branch and the district organisation is at the moment in flux everywhere, and as the area in which the structure evolving has gone furthest is Coventry, it will perhaps help the comrades in other factory branches and districts to look at the structure built there as described in the report of the district organiser:
District aggregate (once in two months).
District committee (all or almost all workers, meets fortnightly).
Secretariat (branch secretaries – all or most – plus district organiser and unemployed members. To cover routine, implement decisions, pass on to branches where needed. Meets weekly).
Branch committees (meeting weekly, after district). Discusses branch work and district committee decisions.
Branch meetings (monthly in established factory branch with more frequent work groups).
District fractions (women, Ireland, race, trade union fractions).
In addition, we have industrial meetings (invitation only – at present monthly, less frequently as soon as district improves), public meetings (none till October), district fraction public meetings/invitation meetings (e.g. Ireland, women, race, teachers).
Once this structure is set up – by the end of September – we will definitely have an efficient machine. Then we will be able to initiate activity, not simply react. It means also that faced with a dispute, other events, initiatives from the centre, we will be able to immediately discuss and act on it.
A less developed form of district organisation – but perhaps suitable for the local situation – has been evolved in York. In a report from the York district organisation we are informed:
The district committee is composed of two delegates from the town branch, two from the buses and two from the Rowntree branch. The district secretary is elected by all three branches. The committee meets fortnightly at present, or more often if needed. The committee decides on all joint activity from public meetings to estate work. The buses branch decided a few weeks ago to devote some time to contact work on the estates, etc. We are in the process of setting up a propaganda committee to run public meetings in the town. This will be made up of one member from each branch. We intend also to set up an education committee to deal with the education in all three branches. Both these committees will be directly responsible to the district committee. The district committee also has powers to co-opt further members. It is clear, even at this early stage, that the district committee is developing into the leadership in the town.
It is necessary for comrades from factory branches to take the lion’s share in the district committee. This will strengthen the district leadership, and at the same time will strengthen the factory branches through broadening their outlook, seeing the struggle of the working class in wider terms, and helping to prevent a narrow industrial outlook.
One of the dangers that will probably arise in future will be the lack of contact between local and factory branches working in the same area. Close contact between them could assist both the local and the factory branch. It would direct the factory branch away from any tendency to concentrate only on economic issues, and should encourage political discussion and action on the general line of IS. In the local branch it will improve the understanding of industrial questions, and of the way in which it is necessary to work in order to build closer relations with the organisations of the labour movement in the localities.
There will be a need to develop organised methods of interchanging information between factory and local branches. Thus local branches should be informed of factory comrades living within their area, so that they can invite them, and their wives and families, to branch events. Similarly, factory comrades joining a local branch should be encouraged to join the factory branch if one exists, or to build one. The question of increasing regular close contact between factory branches and local branches will come into greater prominence with the increase in the number of factory branches, and the improvement in the social composition of local branches, eg when workers become predominant in them.
An important area of work in which the factory branch can dovetail with the work of the district is around the trades council.
We aim to re-establish the trades council’s role of uniting centres of local activity. The trades council can become an invaluable channel for IS propaganda, providing opportunities for bringing under our influence local trade union branches, as well as local shop stewards committees. For this purpose our comrades should be encouraged to become delegates to the local trades council. If we have a number of members on the trades council, they should elect a fraction secretary who should arrange a meeting of the fraction before the trades council meeting to go through the agenda, propose resolutions, arrange movers and seconders, etc.
The factory branch must be central in the working of our trade union fractions locally and nationally. It must see to it that every member sells the appropriate rank and file paper, goes regularly to his trade union branch meetings, tries to become a delegate to the district committee, trade union conference, etc. In carrying out such activities, again the factory branch may dovetail with the work of the district.
The decisive role the factory branch can play in the development of the whole district is being realised in fact by the Chrysler IS branch, which sent this encouraging report:
On the more general front, many of our members have involved themselves in work in other areas. It was the Chrysler branch’s initiative which began our first ever work around Massey-Ferguson. It was the Chrysler branch that put a new lease of life into a stagnating and dormant Carworker organisation. It was the Chrysler branch which enabled IS to start work in the Hinckley area. It was the Chrysler branch into which militant housewives have come and are launching off into completely new ventures. It was the Chrysler branch which led IS to a position of serious influence on a working class community newspaper. It was the Chrysler branch which has given a push in the setting up of the new Ford’s Leamington branch. But above all, it was the Chrysler branch which gave a huge boost to the existing membership in the area and stimulated them to further recruitment. Our members are directly responsible for the recruitment of many new workers in the Coventry branch, who have come to IS because of what our branch is achieving, or because our own new members (and it has been new members in particular) have felt able to say that they belonged to an organisation of which they were proud and which they felt was going places.
To sum up: we believe that the setting up of factory branches has been a huge step forward in the work of the organisation. Far from stifling the so called “politicisation” of the workers in the organisation, it has led to increasing enthusiasm, increasing demands for general education, increasing “looking outwards” of the industrial membership. It has meant that we can once again start talking, not in an ultra-leftist way, about activities which we have always considered to be very peripheral – women’s work, tenants’ work, community work: all these are beginning to slot into place and to fit in neatly with our industrial activity.
While the factory branch can have an important effect on the development of the whole district, a bad district organisation can seriously damage factory branches.
Because the factory branch is by nature so close-knit, the loss of one key member can have a serious impact – at least at the beginning of such a branch. If a territorial branch loses an engineer through him turning foreman, the branch can compensate itself by recruiting another member, but the same event can have a deeply damaging effect on the factory branch. Hence the factory branch needs to be nurtured very carefully for quite a long time, and a bad district organisation can therefore be very harmful for a factory branch. If a factory branch makes a serious mistake, the impact is much more damaging both in the short term and the long term than if an area branch makes one. In the factory, with a much more closed community, memories linger longer. Leadership is much more put to the test, is much more carefully scrutinised by workers in the situation of struggle in the factory. Mistakes and deviations of revolutionaries are punished more severely under such conditions.
One of the worst mistakes a militant socialist can commit is to carelessly expose himself to avoidable victimisation unnecessarily.
Of late some of our members in factories have suffered attempted or successful victimisation. It is a problem which will increase as we become more of a threat to the employers, and as the economic crisis deepens. It is therefore something which each factory branch has to concern itself with, both in terms of prevention, and by preparing now for a struggle, in the eventuality that it should happen.
It is really impossible to give general rules and advice on the best way to operate, since conditions can vary so much. Obviously a badly organised tinpot of a place is totally different from a place where the management lives in constant fear of the shop stewards. At one extreme, comrades may be totally unable to operate openly in the plant without being immediately sacked. At the other extreme, paper and bulletin distribution is done quite openly, internally and without fear of any retaliation. Quite clearly our comrades have to choose the best way of working in each case, taking care both not to expose themselves unnecessarily, but also without being so secretive that their existence in the factory becomes a closely guarded secret and they reduce themselves to total ineffectiveness.
Comrades must thus remember that, while being a revolutionary requires daring and initiative, we are not looking for unnecessary martyrdom. This is not just an individual problem – the victimisation of a member weakens our general effectiveness in the factory.
A few rules of thumb are perhaps useful.
(1) The rule that revolutionaries should always be the best workers is quite right. It is important first of all because no member of IS must appear a skiver to his workmates, but it is also important since the management will be looking for opportunities to victimise a dangerous employee. In most workplaces lots of breaches of discipline are normally committed. Workers clock each other on and off, take turns to absent themselves from work, play cards in work time, return late from the sports field or the nearby pub. Pilfering is a normal feature of factory life. All these things are well known to management – their ability to do something about it depends on their analysis of the cost involved in attempting to control it. In most cases they will decide that it is not worth taking risks, and they will make allowances for all these things in their accounting. But no trouble might be too much to get rid of a powerful militant. Then the various “instant dismissal” clauses, which are never used, are all of a sudden brought into operation. No member of IS should put himself or herself into such a position.
(2) Losing one’s temper to supervisors is an excellent way to keep them in their place. But again care must be taken not to place oneself out on a limb.
(3) Secrecy may at times be necessary. As a rule, however, one should attempt to operate as openly as possible. The greater risk for our members is the possible suspicion on the part of their workmates that we have not been honest. The “reds under the bed” scare can be devastatingly effective if one has kept one’s politics carefully hidden. The best defence is honesty, and being able to say it was all above board. In the last analysis the best defence is the support one gets from one’s mates. This will not be forthcoming if they can be convinced that they have been taken for a ride.
(4) Positions in the official movement strengthen our hand against victimisation, especially in case the unions decide to give the employers a helping hand. Thus while the shopfloor organisation is the most important one, our comrades must take positions in the union. Even a place on a branch committee might be of help. Being branch secretary, chairman, or on the district committee is of course even better. Being a delegate to the trades council may be of use. There is to all these positions a treble importance. It is important for our work in the unions. It may discourage the employers and union bureaucracy from moving against us. Lastly, in case of victimisation, these positions will be invaluable in organising support against it.
(5) One last point. It is always important to maintain relations of some friendliness with left elements on the works committee or the union structure. Their aid may well be the crucial extra bit which we need to defend our members in any given situation.
An important part of our national work is rank and file papers, and our members are expected to involve themselves in their distribution, sale and production. Such papers are the logical extension of the internal bulletins on a national scale. Through them we attempt to break down the isolation of plant from plant, combine from combine, within the same industry. Some rank and file papers are produced for specific unions and groups of workers. Their sale in a factory might be a very useful way of making contacts in other unions and to break down the traditional inter-union diffidence.
A factory branch can find such papers a great aid in reaching militants who may not yet be ready to accept our politics, but who may well be prepared to agree to our specific militant programme for the industry. As our printshop expands we are increasingly able to help in producing special issues of the papers to cater for a specific strike. The special issue of the Carworker which was produced during the Ryton dispute greatly enhanced our standing. But as in the case of Socialist Worker the need is not only to sell such papers but also to use them to organise. Often a meeting called under the auspices of the appropriate rank and file paper may be more useful than one called directly as IS. A number of well known militants who might not be prepared to speak from our platform can then be involved, and a larger audience might well result. Often it will be the nature of the meeting which will determine the sponsorship. An important national event may better suit an IS meeting – one to discuss the latest wage claim may well be best suited to the rank and file organisation.
Through the supporters cards and supporters groups we can also establish a semi-permanent periphery of sympathisers, who will in time be won over to our politics.
The factory branch must try to promote the rank and file paper appropriate in the industry (or union). We have to try to develop the influence of our ideas beyond the ranks of those who can be persuaded to join us at a particular time. A Greek philosopher said, “Give me a lever and I will move the world.” We need our lever. The rank and file movement is our lever. Even when we are ten or 100 times bigger than we are now we will still need that lever.
A rank and file movement tries to bring together workers who agree about the need to fight for a limited number of demands in an industry or union but who are not yet agreed about the need for a revolutionary party. For example, they may be agreed about the need for the election and periodic re-election of all officials in the union but not about whether or not there is a parliamentary road to socialism. Or again, they may be agreed about the need to fight particular cases of racial discrimination (and this is basic) without being entirely clear about the question of rejecting all immigration controls. The revolutionary party has to operate through (and build) such movements but without its members making any compromise about what they believe themselves. We have to agree to differ from many militants on some important questions in order to unite with these same militants for some immediate aims.
There are real difficulties in this work of building a rank and file paper and organisation. Comrades sometimes see a contradiction between pushing, for example, the Carworker or the Dockworker, and pushing Socialist Worker, or between pulling people into supporting a rank and file organisation and pulling people into IS. The contradiction does exist. Sometimes the rank and file movement can be a substitute for building the party. Sometimes building the party can be used as an excuse for not developing the rank and file movement. But both are needed.
There is a simple test of the effectiveness of a rank and file paper (and movement). Does it draw in people who are not, at the moment, willing to support the full line of our organisation? If it does, it is a genuine rank and file movement. If it does not, it is a fake and we need to look again at what we are doing. (Of course when we say draw in people we are speaking of genuine militants, serious trade unionists, who may support the Labour Party or the Communist Party. We are not speaking of isolated individuals from the various “revolutionary” sectlets whose stock in trade is the continual carping criticism of IS, because they are parasites on our organisation who are merely a nuisance.)
The workplace-based branches have an indispensable role in guiding the whole organisation in its work in developing rank and file organisations. They are in a position, as nobody else is, to check the effectiveness of this work, to correct the errors that could otherwise be made, to make their experience available to the organisation. There is a condition – that they themselves take the work seriously as part and parcel of their day to day activity.
Comrades should, however, beware of a number of problems. It would be nonsensical and counter-productive for our members to be constantly “switching hats”, one day an IS member, the next a rank and file paper supporter. The rank and file organisation is made meaningful and worthwhile only if it is larger than IS and if it involves militants we cannot recruit yet. Our constant goal must be to make it a semi-independent group, broadly influenced by our politics but not manned or run only by ourselves.
This is very important. confusion will result in one of two situations:
When we speak of rank and file movements we are not talking of an alternative to the existing trade union movement. We are talking about unofficial movements that base themselves on the rank and file but, amongst other things, seek to influence and, in the end, control the official movement. We have to learn from the long experience of breakaway unions and unofficial movements that turned their backs on the existing unions. They all ended up by isolating militants from the mass of their fellow workers. Of course we are a very long way from dominating the official movement and we have to guard against becoming too much concerned with getting positions in that movement rather than developing the shopfloor base. But the opposite error is also dangerous.
It is essential that every workplace-based branch takes very seriously union work as well as direct political and industrial activity on the shopfloor. Sometimes the workplace and the union branch will coincide. More commonly the union branch will be geographically based. In either case the union branch needs to be taken seriously even if, as is often the case, it seems to be something of a shell. And above the branch, the district committee or council ought to be an important area for our work. So ought the trades council, if it has any vigour at all. It will not always be possible to aim so high in the first instance, but there are certain things that every workplace branch ought to do. First, the union journal (or journals) needs to be read and discussed. Our comrades need to be better informed than their fellow workers. Second, the state of the union branch (or branches) in the locality, how our influence can be increased, what resolutions our members should put, and so on, needs to be a regular agenda item. So, where possible, does the district committee. In unions like the AUEW, indeed in the longer term in all unions, our comrades need to be aware of national union affairs. This involves regular contact with the national fractions. The rank and file papers are important in this field as well.
IS factory and workplace branches focus our members’ activity on their particular place of work or, in the case of industrial branches, on the same kind of job. Inside many workplaces, however, workers belong to different unions or different union branches, and many union branches include workers from different factories. So even the job of winning official union support for a dispute involving the factory can often involve IS members who work in other factories.
The differences in rules and ways of working between, for example, the EETPU and the AUEW can also mean that the factory branch is not a very useful place to discuss in depth how to move a particular resolution at the branch. A local meeting of IS members in the same trade union can be much more important.
The organisation of IS members in the same union is also vital at a national level because in Britain unions usually decide (or pretend to decide) national policy at conferences of delegates elected at branch (or chapel) meetings without any reference to their jobs or factory shop stewards’ organisation. So IS, because we believe in fighting to influence and change the unions, must also have a national presence inside the unions.
Where we have more than 20 or so members in a trade union we set up a trade union fraction. This will have a secretary or convenor whose responsibility is to keep an up to date list of IS members in the union, to exchange information through a bulletin if possible, and to call meetings and organise schools for the IS members as frequently as is useful.
Where we have a reasonable number of members in the same industry, it becomes possible for us to set up an industrial fraction, like the IS automotive industry fraction. These fractions are based even more closely than the trade union fractions on the factory branches, and in effect represent the factory branches that we have in the particular industry together with the individuals in factories where we have not yet set up a branch. It is likely in the future that some of the industrial fractions will set up subdivisions based on all our members who work within the same combine.
The IS trade union and industrial fractions are the organisations through which we decide specific IS national industrial and trade union policies, and whether or not to involve our members in rank and file papers and organisations covering the union elections, whether or not to put up candidates, and if for
example we decide against an IS candidate, who else we should support instead. Local fraction meetings decide these matters for the local areas, and the national meetings decide on national union and industry issues.
The fractions are therefore very important indeed in bringing together in activity IS members from different factories and different parts of the country. They are the means by which confidence and trust between IS members will be cemented at the shopfloor level right across the country.
Members of factory branches should play as active a part as possible in their appropriate fractions. This will mean giving the lead to the industrial fractions and working in conjunction with the local IS district committee on building the trade union fractions.
Practically all our factory branches are involved in producing, or intend to produce, factory bulletins. They clearly serve a valuable purpose. The main danger to be avoided is that they should not substitute for direct political work and recruitment to IS, even where they may be doing useful propaganda work. One wonders if that is not the case when we read Dockworker no.36, issued by our comrades in Southampton, knowing that they have not recruited one docker, although the bulletin and its editor are highly esteemed by many Southampton dockers.
One must distinguish between factory bulletins published from outside the plant, and internal factory bulletins.
The factory bulletin was the means by which IS attempted to gain footholds in the factories from the outside. It was normally written by non-workers and distributed on the factory gate by non-workers. The frequency of these bulletins was not dictated by events inside the factory but by the need to provide activity for the IS branch, and the contacts who supplied us with the information tended to remain as contacts rather than become members. After all, if we were doing all this for them, why did they need to join? This approach was inspired by the belief that working class recruits were hard to make, and that we had to “prove” our seriousness by a hard stint on the factory gate. Indeed, one remembers the virtuous glow one used to get after standing in the rain outside the factory handing out sodden sheets of paper or failing to sell Socialist Worker to tolerant but indifferent workers.
This was a stage of our development. One cannot be sure if it was right at the time – it certainly does not fit today. Where circumstances compel us to approach a factory entirely from the outside we should be more direct and more bold. If there is a dispute, Socialist Worker remains the best entry – a sale on the gate for two to three weeks, a leaflet which explains IS’s policies and stresses our factory branch organisation, plus a direct approach to the convenor to take a Socialist Worker order for the factory. It may not work, but such an approach is more likely to bring recruits than our becoming part of the scenery at the gate.
These are the voice of IS inside the works. The objectives they are designed to achieve can vary enormously. Where we have the leadership of the factory or of a significant section of it they can be a weapon in the struggle with the management. The bulletin prepares workers for battles that are coming up, communicates what has been achieved to more backward sections and thereby raises their expectations, and answers the propaganda of the management and local press.
The factory bulletin, like Socialist Worker, is a means to an end. The goal is to win as many workers as we can to our revolutionary socialist politics and to convince all the rest of the need to fight against the ruling class. Socialist Worker does this at a general level, talking to workers across all industries and all skills, and to those who don’t even work in factories at all, like housewives. The factory bulletin is a mini-socialist newspaper with a much narrower audience. There are wide political differences amongst its readers, but all are to a greater or lesser extent “experts” in one area – the factory, its wages, conditions, its scandals and its politics.
Among the best examples of this combative type of bulletin are the ones our comrades produced at BSC Consett. The bulletins are written by the IS members in the works. They are produced for a specific issue and prepared with care. They have to speak in the language of the works, and be absolutely accurate not only in the facts but in the tone. For example, in the discussion on a particular bulletin on a bricklayers’ dispute in the works the word “shopfloor” was vetoed by the members present as this was not a phrase used by brickies at Consett. They called it the “pitside”. A little thing, but symptomatic of the care required if the weapon of the bulletin is to be correctly used. We have no shortage of enemies waiting to pounce on the lads who distribute the bulletins in the works to accuse them of spreading lies or of being used by sinister outside forces.
At Consett we produce about 500 copies of each bulletin – paid for by a whip-round of the members – which is distributed in the canteens, tea rooms and workshops. There are 7,000 workers in the plant but the bulletins get passed on from hand to hand. A couple of working men’s clubs – with the approval of the committee – place a stack of bulletins on the bar for lads to read and pass around.
The bulletins have become enormously popular with the rank and file, because we not only attack the management and trade union officials, we also take the piss out of them too, and the audacity of the bulletins strikes a responsive chord. Humour is important if it can be done. We’re proud of the following example – it followed a full page advertisement in the local paper by BSC in which they apologised for the enormous amounts of red dust the works were pouring over the town, but promised that new improvements would soon bring relief:
That Red Dust – A BSC Statement. Many of you who live in the Consett area will have noticed a considerable increase in the clouds of red dust billowing from the steel plant recently. This is caused by the men who work in the appalling conditions in the plant shaking out their overalls at the end of their shift. We are, however, now replacing the older mild-steelworkers who crumbled easily (but were much cheaper) with a new tougher version, more able to resist the conditions imposed upon them by the industry.
These bulletins are really hated by the foremen, management, and the right wing union convenors and officials. The AUEW district organiser convened a meeting of AUEW stewards in the plant to inform them of what was happening over a condition money dispute because otherwise they would only learn about it from the IS bulletins. Also foremen have been asking management to take legal action against us for the rude things we have been saying about them. (We have to be careful about victimisation in these circumstances – hence all the bulletins carry an address of a person not working in Consett rather than that of any of our Consett members.)
IS factory bulletins try to win over workers, sometimes with considerable industrial experience and sometimes brand new to the factory and trade union scene, on the day to day issues that come up in the place of work – things that are discussed in the teabreak as well as decisions taken by the shop stewards. We have to be very specific to show our fellow workers how our politics, IS, and joining us in the fight, is the way forward for them.
In the 6 June 1973 issue of the Glasgow Albion Worker, for example, one side dealt with The Yoker Situation, referring in four paragraphs to the closure of a section of the factory, and putting demands: “No contraction terms at Yoker, no redundancies, and no cooperation on the closure or transfer of materials or manpower from Yoker.”
Junior Workers’ Committee had one paragraph urging support for trade union organisation of the apprentices in the factory.
Films – Will They Benefit The Workers? had two paragraphs attacking the shop stewards who had agreed to allow a British Leyland publicity team in to film workers, and urging a down-tools if they came into any section before the workers had been consulted.
The other side of the bulletin dealt with a more general subject, the question of rising prices, but in a very specific way. Called Figures Don’t Lie ... But Liars Can Figure! it drew up an “Albion workers’ cost of living index” that compared wages with the rise in prices, rents, bus fares, etc. “But what of our mince and totty man?” it asks. “At the price of meat today, he’s just a totty man.” It then goes on to give exact prices.
One side of the bulletin, then, deals with factory politics – what’s happening or not happening, and what socialists say about it. (All the while we stress the need for shopfloor democracy, report-back meetings, shop stewards’ bulletins, etc, for opposition to management attempts to “pay off” our representatives, on the need for action independent of what the full time trade union officials and bosses say, and on the need for working class solidarity, between sections within the factory and with other workers elsewhere.) And the other side deals with those week-by-week national political subjects that are talked about in the factory, such as prices, Lord Lambton or racism.
Sometimes this “formula” has to be bent because so much is going on in the factory that one side of a piece of paper isn’t enough. There’s no virtue in inflexibility, and so when factory politics is jumping, so should our bulletin.
The Chrysler Bulletin, put out by the Chrysler Scotland IS comrades at Linwood on 25 May 1973, at the beginning of the dispute that led to the strike at Ryton, had articles on The Press Shop Lockout, The Layoff Claim and A Lesson For Us All on one side. These were all about how the shop stewards and workers should show more solidarity between different sections of the 8,500 workers at Linwood. On the other side there was a piss-taking reply to a “message” from the Chrysler UK managing director, which started, “The past ten years at Linwood have at times been rather like the career of an erratic but brilliant football team.” The IS reply went, “The past ten years at Linwood rather remind me of the position of Clyde, who, although promoted to the First Division, wants to keep on paying Second Division wages.” And below that an article, Our Wage Claim: Does It Exist? On both sides there were adverts for Socialist Worker and a local IS meeting.
The Glasgow district organiser writes:
There are no hard and fast rules about distributing factory bulletins. At the Chrysler and Albion factories in Glasgow the different shift patterns, the fact that we don’t have members in every section of the factory, and that sometimes there is the danger of victimisation if an IS member openly hands out the bulletin, means that some bulletins are distributed inside, sometimes openly for example being left on tea tables and sometimes secretly being left inside cars that then go down the line, but the majority are distributed outside by IS members from other workplaces or from college. On the danger of victimisation resulting from the bulletins, we have found that it is one thing the workers round you knowing that you”re involved in the bulletin – we try and collect money to pay for them from other workers – but it can be another thing to be seen by two supervisors actually handing out the thing to workers clocking in. So we don’t take any foolish risks.
The bulletins should always be written as much as possible by the IS members and our sympathisers in the factory, because this is what gives them the concrete feeling that really convinces other workers. Sometimes a non-worker comrade can be got to write a good piece of analysis on some development (e.g. the latest profit figures) that our factory members haven’t got the material or time to do. And sometimes a really good article from Socialist Worker, or from another factory bulletin, can be used as well.
Regular appearance and continuity of the bulletins are important if they are to play a significant part in the life of the factory. This usually means they should come out fortnightly, or at the very least monthly. But when things are bubbling – a new wage deal, sackings – we should not be trapped by routine into not producing bulletins more often than that.
The issue of a bulletin must be seen as a weapon of the organisation to increase its influence among workers, and to recruit the best of them to IS. With clear cost efficiency calculation, and fighting hard against dead routinism, the factory branch can avoid a rut. It has above all constantly to check what are the tangible results of prolonged activity in producing factory bulletins.
To summarise: factory branches in this period are the voice of the IS organisation inside the workplace. They should therefore be written by the workers involved, distributed internally, and be produced for a specific purpose. This objective will also dictate how often they appear, e.g. an interventionist bulletin of an IS factory branch in struggle could appear daily or even every shift if events were moving swiftly enough.
A good bulletin is short, clearly typed, has at least one item relating directly to the factory based on obvious inside information. If a regular one publishes accounts on the front page, it must “click” – that is to say, it must connect with the real feelings, frustrations, etc of the best militants who are not yet in IS, but who could be. Each bulletin must have a focus – a topic, a stewards’ meeting, a dispute, an exposure. There is nothing worse than a bulletin produced for the sake of a bulletin.
On bulletins the following advice may be useful:
An anguished cry coming out of practically all the reports from the factory branches regards education material. To quote a few examples.
The Reyrolles report speaks about the “lack of guide to and supply of pamphlets and constructive political literature”. The Copper Pass (Hull) report underlines this: “We need schools along the lines of last year’s AUEW fraction schools, if possible held in Hull. We need basic education material on trade unionism and our work in it. We badly need copies of The Struggle for Socialism and other long-promised pamphlets.” The report from Chrysler branch, Coventry, says:
We have encountered problems. The main one that comes to mind is education. Until recently, there was a distinct lack of material which was usable on a wide scale. Even short pamphlets, like [Chris] Harman’s on Russia, are too complex to serve as an introduction to the topic. The Struggle for Socialism is the most useful. Unfortunately, it is out of date in many respects. We are still anxiously awaiting the reprinting of it. The Merseyside notes will also be useful – it has been suggested by one or two comrades that the notes be expanded into a series of short pamphlets.
There are problems with the education of new members – discussion groups turn into activity groups, new members are coming in all the time, and we are constantly having to be as flexible as possible in the way we set up these groups and branches. Really the problem is with the older membership and the centre: can they keep pace with the demands of new people? If we fail in this task, we could lose these people again very quickly, and lose them for a good long time as well.
The report of the Merseyside building workers’ branch says:
One problem which in part already exists, but will become more acute, is the need for industrial cadres. It is not enough to have cadre schools as at present, as they mainly appeal to the more intellectual comrades in the organisation. We would like to see specific cadre schools for industrial members both at national level (comparable with the intermediate cadre schools at present) and regional cadre schools (comparable to the basic school). The challenge of workers successfully building and leading the organisation is one that the whole organisation must face up to. Also these cadre schools will have to change in content. There must be an emphasis on organising in industry.
Radical changes in educational and publication policies of IS at the centre, at district level and at factory branch level are necessary. Because of the neglect hitherto in this field we can at best point out only the main guidelines for such a policy:
One cannot be sure that education can be run totally by the branches, but certainly some education should take place there, perhaps integrated regularly with larger meetings with speakers, organised by the industrial aggregate. Some topics should be:
Stalinism: but seen in relation to what Stalinism is today. Thus: Is there a parliamentary road to socialism? Can the Labour Party with the help of the CP establish socialism? Is the left bureaucracy socialist? Can one leave it to the left bureaucracy? Is there a socialist camp?
Labour history: but again related to today’s struggles. Picketing, and the history of the struggle to establish the right to picket. Occupations, and the history of the American sit-ins. A rank and file movement, and the Minority Movement.
The unions: a detailed analysis of the structure, problems and perspectives in the unions involved. Sessions on the coming trade union conferences, etc.
Industrial struggle: How to organise strikes; industrial accidents; productivity deals and how to fight them.
IS itself: Factory branches and the experience of the CP; building the party and the experience of the CP; our work in the unions; what rank and file papers are for, etc.
A few general items: racism, imperialism, etc.
Practical training: in public speaking, chairmanship, writing leaflets, reporting for Socialist Worker and for the rank and file papers, how to intervene in trade union meetings, how to conduct an election campaign in the union, etc. Mock bargaining could be quite educational – especially for young, inexperienced comrades.
In addition it will probably be worthwhile to have a crash course for new members, to include the following titles: Politics of IS; Reform or revolution; Party and class; Work in unions; Workers’ control; Racism; Ireland; Russia.
The “mechanics” of this education work in factory branches can take many forms: at branch meetings, or at combined meetings of factory workers and others in the same neighbourhood. Perhaps the Coventry experience is of some value for other IS branches. Chrysler factory branch reports:
We have set up weekly and fortnightly discussion groups in various areas of the district around Chrysler workers. The first one of these, in the Stoke Heath area of Coventry last Friday, which was set up by two new members of the Chrysler branch, started as a discussion about what was wrong with capitalism, and finished in the recruitment of seven new members (four to Chrysler and three to the town)! This group plans to do some tenants’ work. (Again, this will give us a minor problem. We feel it is best to keep all these seven together, as they are all mates, for the time being, until they have found their feet in the organisation. This may involve, in the near future, the setting up of a Stoke Heath geographical branch, with some members of the Chrysler branch having dual membership.)
For all this the leading bodies of IS need to prepare material. International Socialism journal should change its character so as to fill an important gap.
The excellent recently published pamphlet The Struggle for Workers’ Power can play a particularly important role in education work in factory branches as well as in the individual self-education of members. Syllabuses round the different chapters of the pamphlet would be useful.
Because of the shift system, etc, many workers will miss a number of the education meetings, hence the written word needs to be emphasised. Simple, clearly written pamphlets on the various subjects mentioned above and on many others should have a high priority.
Above all, workers’ education and cadre training depend on a qualitative rise in the role of workers in IS branches, districts and national leadership. Workers who had a tough and nasty relation with school authorities in childhood certainly don’t enjoy the word “education”. Only when workers take the centre of the arena in IS do they feel the need for more knowledge. When industrial members in every branch and district are brought into the leadership, when they stamp their image on the organisation, the hunger for Marxist education will be strongly expressed. The industrial members must of course stamp their needs and aspirations on the educational programme of the branch and the district and national organisation.
Last updated on 24.10.2005