In his Solidarity 592 article on union organising in the USA, Traven Leyshon backed moves within the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) to encourage young socialists to get jobs in the logistics industry.
The priority for young socialists to integrate themselves into workplace and union organising applies across different countries. How does that priority work out in the UK?
Socialists should go for jobs which will give them good chances of building a base for intervening in working-class struggles from “the inside”.
Workers’ Liberty has long argued for a priority to sectors like the railway including London Underground, the civil service, the post, local government, telecom (BT), and the NHS. These jobs are available in big cities where we have AWL branches. They have large workplaces with a higher than average level of union organisation (and some AWL experience and presence in the unions). They also give access to jobs which (because of the union organisation) are relatively well-paid, and which people can sustain alongside on-the-streets activity and a full schedule of political meetings for the many years needed to make difference in union organising, even where shift work is involved.
Some of those sectors are strategic sectors of the economy with significant industrial muscle. Logistics, of course, is another such sector.
At the present stage, it would make no sense for small socialist groups to try to “substitute” for the mass trade-union movement or foster the illusion that a few individual activists taking jobs in logistics would be a sufficient fulcrum to organise that industry. Unions in the UK, unlike in the US, do not have energetic campaigns to organise logistics and warehouse workers. The DSA has around 90,000 members and can reasonably hope to place sizeable groups in individual distribution centres and in nearby cities to give external support. No socialist organisation in Britain is currently capable of that scale of operation.
Socialist activists are much better placed to intervene in industrial disputes and to light the fires needed to embolden the labour movement if they are active within the workplace rather than just advocating from outside. Active intervention to establish a socialist presence in particular jobs is good; but, to be effective, needs thought-out and consistent targeting.
Stronger and more militant rank-and-file organisation in target sectors can revitalise the mass union movement, and build the base for future organising efforts in logistics.
Jay Dawkey, south London