As rank-and-file trade unionists, we think it is important to extend democracy wherever possible.
A practical example of workers taking an active role in running the union and therefore strengthening its democratic structures is when strike committees have been democratically elected during disputes by the workers who are actually in struggle. A strike committee exists to not only organise pickets, collections and solidarity work, but to have a real say in how disputes are run - and most importantly, whether to continue or settle them.
In order to work, the strike committee must be truly representative of the workforce and contain its most advanced elements. These two things are important because: firstly, the committee must understand and appreciate the level of consciousness, militancy and determination of their workmates and keep this in mind at all times when decisions are being made; and secondly, the committee must not just reflect current opinion but must as far as possible seek to form it by arguing the case for action and educating more backward layers of workers.
The recent disputes on Metronet are a case in point of a correct method being applied. Strike committee members were elected at their respective branch meetings, met regularly, made decisions and carried them out in a disciplined way. They also managed to convince the vast majority of the workforce that three-day strikes were the minimum required to get their demands. In tandem with this, they helped build solidarity with other grades including drivers who refused to work on health and safety grounds throughout the strike.
The Metronet disputes were very successful: bankrupting the company, bringing it back into public ownership, and gaining TfL pensions and free passes for all staff.
On the down side, when the strikes were called off by the negotiating team, the strike committee was not called to meet and approve the decision, although some consultation was achieved by phone and text. We can not rest on our laurels, and in further disputes we must demand that the strike committee meets to appove any settlement or to reject it.
In recent disputes on TubeLines and by Tube cleaners, strike committees were less sucessful because these sections of workers were not as organised as their sisters and brothers in Metronet, did not have as much experience and did not involve activists outside the existing layer of reps.
Therefore forming a strike committee does not necessarily guarantee success, but providing the spadework of organising is done and the above methods are applied, it does help empower ordinary workers to control what is after all their dispute - and therefore increases the chances of success considerably.