Winning Workers – Taking On Precarity

On 24 March People Before Profit hosted their second workers’ forum. The topic was ‘Winning Workers – Taking On Precarity’. Jane Hardy former professor of political science and author of the soon to be published Nothing To Lose But Our Chains gave an introduction (see below for video) on precarious work and a few recent examples of how unions have fought back in the UK where she’s based.

Hardy recognised Guy Standing’s 2011 book The Precariat as an important spotlight on poor working conditions but observes his portrayal of the working class as divisive, pessimistic and an exaggeration of what is happening to the world of work. Her solution? Be more specific. Look at the context, the people and note the longer stretch of workers’ struggle.  

She turned our attention to the national and local frameworks in terms of regulations and law. She noted that unions take action very differently using a variety of strategies. It’s vital when looking at examples of success or failure in winning workers to join the struggle against precarity that we examine the context in which the struggles against precarity took place. 

Jane highlighted methods and societal standing of workers involved in half a dozen workers’ struggles noting the gender and migrant status and integration with local communities, political parties and unions. 

Precarious short-term work historically is not that uncommon. She cautioned against any illusion that the elements of precarious work as we define it today were not always a part and parcel of waged work historically where workers have not developed power. Bad work has existed as long as people have sold their labour. And yet workers unionized and organised built power and won the weekend, sick pay and the 8-hour day. But we will need to do that again and again as our struggle as working people is continuous.

Jane highlighted a series of inspiring struggles many of which required years. These struggles changed the way institutions and workers themselves saw workers ability to build power in their workplace. Jane noted success was more common with workers who connected to communities, who worked with able trade union organisers and who made the connections to the broader questions which occupy the world of ‘politics’. Clear politics matter.

Workers winning of rights for each other is only possible when workers organise and struggle. Fighting to organise newer workers- be they young workers or migrant workers – is a massive part of how we struggle as unions. And struggling is how we can get on the field where we can win. We must win workers to unions to take on precarity effectively.

As the evening ended Jane noted a conversation with a worker who reminded her of the oldest lesson in organising: We have to choose to fight. We may not always win. But we can never win unless we choose to fight. We can only win when we fight. 

So let’s keep organizing new workers into unions That’s how we take on precarity and win. 

See her full introduction below. To get in on the next Trade Union Department Workers’ Forum contact [email protected] and follow People Before Profit.

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