What lessons can we learn from how the Left related to workers and industrial struggles of the 1970s and how should the Left relate to workers today? How should our methods of relating to workers differ between a workplace which is experiencing a high level of class conflict and shop floor organisation, from one which conflict occurs within the framework of union control, from one which is non-unionised and there is little overt conflict and a fairly passive, quiescent and fragmented workforce? Should we even think of engaging with the latter group? If worker militancy usually comes from a response to an employer offensive within the workplace, how should the Left relate to workers who are currently passive? How should we relate to those who begin an industrial struggle? What is our role in these different situations? What are we trying to achieve? Consciousness raising? Recruitment to a political organisation? Shop floor and rank and file organisation? A better understanding of changes in the workplace and its effects on workers? Do we only consider engaging with workers whose workplace has strategic importance both economically and politically or do we engage with all workplaces regardless of their importance? How do we even measure strategic importance? How did the Left of the 1970s address these issues? How are the Left addressing these issues today?
Sheila Cohen has been involved in the trade union movement as an academic and an activist. In 1990-95, she produced and edited a British rank and file union newsletter, Trade Union News, and during her time in the US was involved with the Labor Notes project. In 2006 she published the book Ramparts of Resistance: Why workers lost their power and how to get it back.
Marco is a casual worker who is involved in the London Commune Group. He will introduce the concept of a workers inquiry and the recent project called ‘prol-position’ (http://www.prol-position.net/).
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