Marxism and trade unions

Submitted by AWL on 23 April, 2012 - 1:27

This a six-part AWL education course.

Its purpose is to give all members a solid grounding in some fundamental ideas about what trade unions are, and the role of socialists in unions and workplaces. We want every member to do this course – members currently active in unions, and those who will be union activists in future, or have past experiences to share. This collective knowledge and understanding will help make AWL even more effective and help develop our ideas. By all means also invite contacts.

The six sessions are:
1. Our Fantasy Union
2. The Marxist Critique of Trade Unions
3. The Bureaucracy
4. The Rank and file
5. The Role of Marxists
6. Workplace Bulletins

The course is designed to be used in a variety of settings. You could run it as a dayschool, in a series at branch meetings, in small groups before/after another activity, as one-to-one discussions. Neither is there a fixed timing for the sessions. You’ll need at least half an hour, but could probably go on for a lot longer if you’d like to! Once you have run each session, please contact any members who were unable to attend, to fix up a session with them.

The course is designed to be participatory. We don’t want to educate people by lecturing them, but by encouraging them to think, question, disagree and develop ideas. Because of this format, a session does not have to be run by an “expert”, but by someone who can facilitate discussion. The facilitator should explain the theme and format of the session; bring and distribute materials, make sure everyone is clear about each stage, and make sure that everyone feels comfortable about contributing.

Each session should start with introductions (if necessary), a brief outline of the subject/format of the session, and (sessions 2-6) feedback from the previous session (see ‘follow-up activity’ below).

Each session plan includes most or all of the following: reading in advance; a summary of key points; discussion questions; discussion statements; in some, other exercises; follow-up activity. Please use these as follows:

Reading in advance: Please circulate well in advance, by email and hard copy if possible. It’s a good idea at the end of each session to give out the reading for the next one. Be aware that some comrades may find the reading more challenging than others. Explain that it might help to note down any points that need clarifying, any questions, any points thought to be particularly significant.

At the session itself, start with a brief review of the reading, bearing in mind that some people may not have been able to read it in advance. Ask if there are any specific questions about the reading before getting into the discussion, but keep this to specific questions and don’t let it go on too long.

Bring spare copies of the reading to the discussion, plus copies of any additional reading suggested in ‘follow-up activity’.

Questions: Unless there are just two or three of you, divide people into smaller groups (2s or 3s) to discuss these questions. It is best to print/write each question on a separate piece of paper. Share the questions out between the groups, ask them to discuss them, make notes and be ready to report back.

Remind comrades that the questions are designed to prompt discussion, not to test their knowledge or catch them out! Tell them how much time they have, and check that they are making progress during the allotted time rather than getting bogged down on one question.

When the time is up, get everyone back together and go through each question, asking the group which discussed it to give their feedback, then asking for any other comments. Alternate the groups, rather than getting each one to report on all its questions together.

Discussion statements: Divide again, into different 2s and 3s, then repeat the above exercise with the discussion statements. Similarly, they are designed to prompt discussion; we want comments, rather than a straightforward agree/disagree.

Summary of key points: This is a guide for the facilitator. If you feel that any of these points have not adequately come out of the discussions on the questions and statements, please raise these points yourself.

Follow-up activity: It is important that the group agrees a follow-up activity, so that the ideas discussed are put into practice, to ensure further collective activity, and to help newer people get more involved.

As well as those recommended for each specific session, an additional ‘follow-up activity’ for every session would be to discuss this issue with a workmate / trade unionist who is interested in AWL’s politics.

Click here to download the main course pack.
Click here to download additional reading from Hal Draper's Karl Marx's Theory of Revolution
Click here to download additional reading from Harry Wicks' Keeping My Head


Submitted by AWL on Thu, 10/01/2013 - 13:46

The first session is being run three times:

⚫ Wednesday 16 January at AWL London Colleges branch, 7pm at University of London Union
⚫ Thursday 17 January at AWL North East London branch, 7.30pm near Old Street
⚫ Sunday 20 January after a Tubeworker distribution session, 3pm near Kings Cross

We will be running the course in South London at some point soon.

For more information ring 07961 040 619 or email

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