Workers Can Win! A Guide to Organising at Work by Ian Allinson, with illustrations by Colin Revolting
Published by Pluto Press £14.99
Workers Can Win! is a book containing a wealth of information on organising at work. It provides everything an absolute beginner would need to know (and it’s a lot), in a format that’s easy to read and understand. It’s also a useful reference for those with a bit more experience, and it provides warnings of common pitfalls that even the sagest organiser can encounter.
For a how-to guide, it’s a bit lengthy, but that’s only because there is so much that someone new to the world of workplace organising would need to know. Spoiler: trade unions aren’t always the best vehicle for this.
Allinson instead asks us to focus on organising in our own workplaces, with or without involvement from a union. As he explains in the book, unions serve a purpose, but sometimes they get caught up in their own bureaucracy and politics, which impairs their ability to fight for their members. The internal and external workings of unions is just one of the contradictory themes addressed in this text.
Also up for discussion is the double-edged issue of workers’ rights. What, you say, how could workers’ rights possibly be a contentious issue? Well, in today’s individualistic society, there’s a danger we can only think about securing our own rights, when we have more power if we demand better conditions for everyone. If one worker’s rights are denied, it can happen to any of us. The book covers the importance of solidarity in the face of individual injustices.
Don’t forget that the rights we have, which are being rapidly diminished by the current government, were granted by those who hold the power. They allow us just enough dignity and recompense that we will not try to overthrow our masters, and hence they work to the bosses’ benefit. Exercising our rights is important, but these rights are limited, and we can demand better.
You see, organising at work is both smaller than the scope of total union activity, and greater than it. We might have our specific workplace problems that we organise to overcome, but ultimately the treatment of workers is dictated by the capitalist regime, and we should organise to disrupt that, too.
Lately, footage of old speeches (often taken out-of-context) has been dragged up on social media as an example of the Left focusing on workplace issues to the detriment of social justice and inclusion of minorities. This book has an answer for that. The increasing diversity of the UK’s working class can be an advantage in organising because it can be used to educate others about injustices at work and in society that they may not be aware of (and it’s the right thing to do).
But Allinson is clear: solidarity among all workers is paramount. Discrimination and segregation divide the workforce, and organising across departments, workplaces and cultures brings us together – which the bosses hate. Considering intersectional issues in our campaigning isn’t just beneficial, it’s essential for effective action.
As well as the broader ethical and philosophical issues, Workers Can Win! provides a detailed look at strategy and tactics. How do you start a movement from zero? How can you determine who is already on your side and who is against you? How can a workforce with a grievance acquire the power needed to do something about it? All these questions are answered, with examples and tools you can employ in your own organising.
The book gives guidance, but encourages you to think about your own circumstances and figure out for yourself what you need to do in your specific case. If you’re really stumped, each chapter ends with a bullet-point summary and a few questions to help you apply the knowledge gained to your own situation.
Covering such a lot in one book may seem unmanageable, but at 244 pages, you can read it in an afternoon. Although the advice is general, it’s enough to get you thinking and prepare you for whatever you might have to deal with at your, and any, workplace. Forewarned is forearmed, and you can be sure the bosses will try to disarm you.
The spirit of this book is all about open communication and sharing knowledge amongst comrades – unions in particular come under criticism for gatekeeping information, which keeps workers in the dark about how they can change their situation.
The important thread running through this book is that you need to be adaptable and use the tools available to you at the time, even if it seems counter to agreed norms. While it may be true that we cannot dismantle the master’s house using the master’s tools, we can cause him a whole load of problems in the short term while we’re planning what to do next.
This is where the importance of unions is emphasised: they may not be perfect, and those in the higher echelons of the union may have their own agendas, but on the whole, trade unions enable workers to organise, build power, and feel a degree of protection from exploitative practices. Where the union isn’t much help, it doesn’t have to stop us organising in our own way, and there are plenty of suggestions for reaching people within a workplace, and in the wider community.
However you’re able to organise, this book will guide you every step of the way. And with the UK’s worker protections in tatters, we could all use a little help right now.
- Manchester – Wednesday 21 September 2022
- Liverpool – Sunday 25 September 2022
- Blackburn – Thursday 29 September 2022
- Birmingham – Sunday 2 October 2022
- Bolton – Friday 7 October 2022
- Stockport – Thursday 13 October 2022
- London – Saturday 15 October 2022
- Lancaster – Thursday 20 October 2022
- Edinburgh – Saturday 12 November 2022
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Featured image: Workers Can Win!