The decline and fall of picketing

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R Totale
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May 17 2018 12:25
The decline and fall of picketing

As a result of some of the discussion on the TUC thread, was thinking about the broad historical decline/defeat of the class struggle in the UK in recent decades, and I was wondering: what do people think was "the end" of the mass workers' struggles of the Thatcher era, and in particular, when did we stop seeing proper mass picket lines? Obviously 84/85 was a big turning point, but it's not like there was a switch flicked the day the miners went back - I know Wapping definitely had proper full-on picketing, don't really know about much later than that? I guess maybe Liverpool dockers was the last really big struggle in that vein, no idea what the picket lines were like though.

Would also be interested to learn more about the relationship between changes in the law and on the ground - was it as simple as "the law changed, then it stopped", or was it more "the kind of orgs and cultures that could sustain mass picketing were defeated and it stopped, also the law changed to ban it at some point"?

Also, shoutouts to Pennine Foods in 2016, Rusholme bus depot last year, and Sussex Uni this year for bucking that trend.

Mike Harman
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May 17 2018 13:42

First of all great idea to discuss this, I've been thinking about this loads reading about '60s/'70s strike action like Mansfield Hosiery and Imperial Typewriters.

One question, I'm not sure if it's the art of picketing that's declined or the practice of staying on strike until demands are met - to me it feels like the latter. Staying out on strike means a non-symbolic disruption of the workplace, which means it actually becomes important how solid the strike is, whether scabs or stock gets through etc. and that in turn leads to the need for a real picket line.

For a one day strike these things are psychologically important but are not going to have an economic effect on the employer, because the one day strike itself does not have a significant effect. So if a union gets away with only calling a one day strike, the prospect of a mass picket is over before anything starts. Whereas as with the university strikes, a bit more striking time and pickets develop a bit more.

Bit chicken and egg but it might help to trace the decline?

Going chronologically to fill in some gaps:

The 1992 Burnsall strike was a year long dispute, one report says pickets would reach 300 on Saturdays with community support. Also talks about harassment of strikers by management and scabs. I don't know how much the pickets were 'mass pickets' but there's this description of the union behaviour:

SASG wrote:
But the role of these men cannot simply be categorised as racist and sexist. Shackled by the law, prevented from calling mass pickets or sympathy strikes the trade union leadership appear to be quite happy doing the job demanded by them by the government and employers - keeping the workers under control. This at Burnsalls was done in a variety of ways - threats that the strikers would he arrested if they showed any militancy, keeping the strikers isolated by making sure that they did not attend any branch meetings and in fact did not know what their branch was, colluding with the police in their harassment of the strikers; consistently attacking anyone from the community who supported the strike, and finally of course calling off the strike soon after it began to show signs of becoming a major national issue. Britain's Trade Union leadership has for many decades played the role of managing the conflict between Labour and Capital Now they are doing this in the name of keeping within the law

(This one's before my time).

The 2002/3 Fire Brigade was a major strike, although firefighters don't have a great need of mass picketing since at least at that point, the strike breakers were the army with Green Goddesses - no-one was going to talk into a Fire Station and drive out a red truck. But there were conflicts over an all out strike vs. a short one, and it was announced in advance which feels relevant.

This was also when a Labour cabinet ministers called the FBU 'terrorists' because they were on strike in the run up to Iraq.

AF wrote:
Some people feared the strike was lost even before it began, back in the summer of 2002 when the government vetoed the 16% pay offer. The FBU leadership made the fatal mistake of allowing their negotiations to appear on the government’s radar, and as an issue of authority and fiscal prudence, not fair pay and sensible service improvements. No doubt the FBU leadership expected a quick campaign and the municipal employers to capitulate. But national, pre-announced strikes only allowed the government to shoulder the employers aside in defence of their carefully-nurtured image of competence. A programme of wildcat, random, station-by-station strikes would have put maximum pressure on the employer at the local level while allowing no national response. With government unable to bear down on the strikers and the prospect of an indefinitely sustainable dispute, the employers would have been forced to take back the negotiations and settle.

The biggest losers long-term will, of course, be the rank-and-file firefighter and (less directly) all public sector workers. The firefighters, well-disciplined, popular and with a massive democratic mandate were led to the picket line like lions and staked out for the media vultures like donkeys. In a strange reversal at the end of 2002, while ordinary firefighters called for the ‘big push’ of an all-out strike, their generals quailed, cowered and gave in, sounding the recall by suspending the strikes. Too late the trade union ambulance was rushed to the field to rescue the survivors: the battered FBU leadership and the discredited fire authority negotiators. No doubt the leaders of the TUC hoped to strengthen their negotiating position, making themselves useful to the government and popular with members and the public alike. They too are firefighters, though of a different sort…..

Gate Gourmet 2005 had proper pickets:

Prol Position wrote:
When today around noon a Gate Gourmet truck with meals for an aeroplane tried to leave the company grounds it was blocked by about 70 strikers and some supporters.

The truck-driver, a scab from a different Gate Gourmet location, ruthlessly continued driving forward, but the strikers held out in front of the truck pressing against it. Security guards from the firm Chevalier tried to pull people away and started hitting them but they could not break the blockade. Instead the truck-front got damaged and apples, icecream and curd cheese were thrown from behind.

When finally the truck front window was smeared with spread cheese (fat content 40 per cent) the driver could not see anything anymore and gave up. Cheers from the crowd followed, and the embellished truck was driven back onto the company ground. When the police came and asked the strikers to finally let the truck drive through, it was nevertheless blocked again. There were some scuffles, minutes passed, but in the end when the police threatened to make arrests the truck could get through.

Post strike 2007, we did this interview from Brighton, it mentions the union banning mass pickets, but up to 40 people on early morning picket lines. So definitely union anti-picketing prohibitions and sounds like numbers were exceeded but subdued and not trying to stop people work.

Brighton postie wrote:
Have there been any attempts to undermine the strike, scabbing etc?
We’re not allowed to say that word! There’s all sorts of stupid rules, like no more than 6 pickets at a time. All thanks to that bastard Thatcher innit. Mind you there were 40+ down here at 4am when the vans were due to come in. A few are working, a couple of full-timers and a couple of new lads who are on a temporary/probationary contract; we don’t blame them for coming in.

If occupying the plant counts as an escalation over picketing, then Visteon 2009. Enfield got evicted and ended up picketing from outside, can't remember and couldn't quickly find an account of how the pickets themselves went.

So we have Heathrow-supplying catering factory (which grounded BA planes), Fire Brigade, and two car parts factories. Visteon had been part of Ford until 2000. It's not really a wide selection of workplaces.

Some smaller/symbolic strikes (thinking hospital cleaners especially) tend to go way over picket line numbers restrictions, but especially hospital picket lines tend to be 'soft' anyway in the sense they're not going to try to stop patients/visitors (or staff in different unions) going in at all. So I guess 'lively' rather than 'mass' in those cases.

Do you have more on Pennine foods? I know Rusholme bus depot buses actually got blocked (although we do not have a write up on here, which is a shame, could correct that retrospectively).

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May 17 2018 15:08

Mike Harman #2

‘Post strike 2007, we did this interview from Brighton, it mentions the union banning mass pickets, but up to 40 people on early morning picket lines. So definitely union anti-picketing prohibitions and sounds like numbers were exceeded but subdued and not trying to stop people work.’

I read ‘Post strike 2007’, differently from you, as the person interviewed appears to blame ‘that bastard Thatcher’ for the rules against mass picketing not the union.

After the miner’s defeat most organised workers I met supported their union (whatever their or their union’s politics) and wished to protect it, and themselves, from the fate that had befallen the miners. A LT workmate said to me, “What chance do we have - they’ve defeated our Praetorian Guard”. It was a depressing time and my workmates and our works committee/s fought on for several years, playing for time, before our factories at Aldenham and Chiswick were finally closed and eventually demolished.

The unions unfortunately reflected the majority of their membership, who found it hard to believe the post-war settlement was being trashed. Many old workers believed mass unemployment was a thing of the past and hoped to wake up out of a nightmare. That’s how I remember it.

Mike Harman
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May 17 2018 16:35
Auld-bod wrote:
Mike Harman #2

‘Post strike 2007, we did this interview from Brighton, it mentions the union banning mass pickets, but up to 40 people on early morning picket lines. So definitely union anti-picketing prohibitions and sounds like numbers were exceeded but subdued and not trying to stop people work.’

I read ‘Post strike 2007’, differently from you, as the person interviewed appears to blame ‘that bastard Thatcher’ for the rules against mass picketing not the union.

I mean it's both isn't it? The anti-picketing laws came in from Thatcher. But the enforcement of those rules happens first via the union apparatus (under threat of fines and etc.). Here's the BMA's guide to picketing saying only six people on a picket .

Even gov.uk while it mentions the six people number, points out it's a guideline/code of practice not a fixed limit: "The Code of Practice on picketing says usually there should be no more than 6 people outside an entrance to a workplace." this is less strict than what the BMA says, which is "observing guidance to have no more than six people on the picket." -> no 'usually' from the BMA.

Then from the 2017 code of practice (not what was in place in 2007):

picketing code of practice wrote:
The Code itself imposes no legal obligations and failure to observe it does
not by itself render anyone liable to proceedings. But statute law provides
that any provisions of the Code are to be admissible in evidence and taken
into account in proceedings before any court, employment tribunal or
Central Arbitration Committee where they consider them relevant.
picketing code of practice wrote:
The law does not impose a specific limit on the number of
people who may picket at any one place; nor does this Code affect in any was
the discretion of the police to limit the number of people on a particular picket
line. It is for the police to decide, taking into account all the circumstances,
whether the number of pickets at any particular place provides reasonable
grounds for the belief that a breach of the peace is likely to occur. If a picket does
not leave the picket line when asked to do so be the police, he is liable to be
arrested for obstruction either of the highway or of a police officer in the execution
of his duty if the obstruction is such as to cause, or be likely to cause, a breach of
the peace

So firstly the laws on picketing are pretty much entirely civil law - about the union being taken to court or not. Secondly, the unions often interpret guidelines as the actual law, suggesting restrictions on picket activity that aren't even in the code of practice as with the BMA example. Also the law is really about being able to disperse picketers, just having a big picket in the first place I'm not sure any action can be taken initially except for asking people to leave.

UCU repeats the six people rule (a bit more accurately than the BMA): https://www.ucu.org.uk/media/1132/Branch-picket-guidance/pdf/ucu_picketing-guidance1.pdf

Not a union, but here's Sussex University saying that pickets are limited to six people by law, which is a bare faced lie: http://www.sussex.ac.uk/students/unionaction2018/questions

Exactly six people per entrance at this Sellafield 2017 strike: http://www.nwemail.co.uk/news/Traffic-chaos-on-route-to-Sellafield-08e93a4f-6026-4004-abb0-c1b4c52ca3f6-ds

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May 17 2018 16:46

The pickets in the 2011 electricians dispute were proper pickets, in the sense that pickets made a serious effort to stop people going in, including physical blockades, and this had an impact on the workplace. Picturehouse pickets in the ongoing dispute are too, I was punched by an outraged rich person on one of them. Pickets in the cleaners disputes are also genuinely trying to stop work from happening.

I'd caution that I've been on plenty of pickets where you weren't blocking the doors or physically obstructing anybody but you were forcefully arguing with workmates about not going in and that is also meaningful picketing so I wouldn't draw a really distinct line on this.

Historically, Burnsall is interesting, a young picket was stabbed by racists on the picket line there.
Liverpool dockers dispute in 1995 were definitely proper pickets, I was also punched on one of those.

I've read that the print dispute at Warrington (1983) is important as pickets defied the new law and were basically smashed. During the miners strike and the print strike pickets also defied the anti strike laws. I'll look up more details about all these disputes in a bit.

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May 17 2018 18:29
Mike Harman wrote:
One question, I'm not sure if it's the art of picketing that's declined or the practice of staying on strike until demands are met - to me it feels like the latter. Staying out on strike means a non-symbolic disruption of the workplace, which means it actually becomes important how solid the strike is, whether scabs or stock gets through etc. and that in turn leads to the need for a real picket line.

For a one day strike these things are psychologically important but are not going to have an economic effect on the employer, because the one day strike itself does not have a significant effect. So if a union gets away with only calling a one day strike, the prospect of a mass picket is over before anything starts. Whereas as with the university strikes, a bit more striking time and pickets develop a bit more.

Bit chicken and egg but it might help to trace the decline?

Yeah, that makes sense - the other thing I guess would be wildcats, that aren't necessarily super long but do tend to be more serious/extra-legal/disruptive leaning, like with the recent Orion strike and so on.

Quote:
If occupying the plant counts as an escalation over picketing, then Visteon 2009. Enfield got evicted and ended up picketing from outside, can't remember and couldn't quickly find an account of how the pickets themselves went.

Yep, and they're rare, but run right up to the present day, as with BiFab last November.

Quote:
Some smaller/symbolic strikes (thinking hospital cleaners especially) tend to go way over picket line numbers restrictions, but especially hospital picket lines tend to be 'soft' anyway in the sense they're not going to try to stop patients/visitors (or staff in different unions) going in at all. So I guess 'lively' rather than 'mass' in those cases.

Yeah, my experience of the BMA strike was that it had some of the most massive, best-supported pickets I've ever seen, not that it counted for much in the end.

Quote:
Do you have more on Pennine foods? I know Rusholme bus depot buses actually got blocked (although we do not have a write up on here, which is a shame, could correct that retrospectively).

Pennine Foods was one of those disputes that mostly got coverage in the trot press and local rag, and the Sheffield Star's website is covered in popups telling you to turn off adblock and stuff before you can read anything, which I guess means that the SP is the least obnoxious of the three main sources - here's a report from the picket line, and another from after management made some concessions.

fingers malone wrote:
The pickets in the 2011 electricians dispute were proper pickets, in the sense that pickets made a serious effort to stop people going in, including physical blockades, and this had an impact on the workplace.

Yeah, I was going to say, I get the impression construction's one of the only really organised sectors left, it kind of feels like there's a really blurry line between wildcats and official action there. 2011 was pretty high-profile, but I think there's similar stuff going right up to the present day, as with Crossrail this winter.
There's been some similar stuff by construction workers up in Teesside, but it's pretty difficult to find much about it - here's a 10-minute video (which I've not watched, I don't want to spend all day writing this comment) about mass pickets near Redcar in 2015.

Quote:
Picturehouse pickets in the ongoing dispute are too, I was punched by an outraged rich person on one of them. Pickets in the cleaners disputes are also genuinely trying to stop work from happening.

I'd caution that I've been on plenty of pickets where you weren't blocking the doors or physically obstructing anybody but you were forcefully arguing with workmates about not going in and that is also meaningful picketing so I wouldn't draw a really distinct line on this.

Historically, Burnsall is interesting, a young picket was stabbed by racists on the picket line there.
Liverpool dockers dispute in 1995 were definitely proper pickets, I was also punched on one of those.

I've read that the print dispute at Warrington (1983) is important as pickets defied the new law and were basically smashed. During the miners strike and the print strike pickets also defied the anti strike laws. I'll look up more details about all these disputes in a bit.

Been a while since I read it, but I remember Printers Playtime having stuff about Warrington - it's only online as a scan of the pamphlet, which at least for me makes it a bit harder to look over quickly.

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May 17 2018 20:27

Good idea for a thread. Just felt it was worth mentioning though that these kind of mass pickets are generally a show of weakness, not strength.

I don't think it's any coincidence that the majority of disputes which have been mentioned (which could also include Grunwick, the Merseyside docks etc) ended in defeat for the workers.

The point being that these kind of mass pickets are only necessary if there are enough scabs prepared to defy the strike and go in.

Generally when disputes were won, in my understanding pickets were generally small token things, which workers would not cross on principle. For example during the 72 miners strike, this was spread by flying picket units, which were generally small and mobile. Compared with the massive set piece Orgreave picketing in 1984 which was a tactical disaster.

Not really sure what my point is. I guess basically that we shouldn't fetishise picketing, mass picketing or picketline violence. Normally disputes are won or lost because of other factors.

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May 17 2018 20:58

Just remembered there was a short wildcat at London/Barts hospital prior to the official strike action last year, cleaners got told their breaks were cancelled and barricaded themselves into the canteen. I don't think that news went past facebook at the time, found it on there weeks later, but it's mentioned briefly here in our article on the official strike action: https://libcom.org/news/st-barts-hospital-strike-continues-17072017

Just a general note, some of these recent disputes that didn't make it out of local papers would be good to document in the library if anyone has time. There's often not much to really write up if there's no-one local to it (pretty much summarising/c&ping the local papers), but like this thread the isolated bits can be useful to refer to.

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May 17 2018 21:05

I kind of agree and also don't agree with Stephen's post. Strikes where you are picketing but not trying too hard because because almost no one is going in are good. However you can have strikes where you have mass confrontational pickets because people are trying to go in and you can win those disputes too. In the sparks dispute if we hadn't been doing militant picketing the dispute would have been weaker. I don't know if that dispute 'won' but I don't think it was a defeat either.

I don't know that much about 72 but Saltley Gate, a fuel storage depot, was definitely a mass picket which is seen as an important victory.

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May 17 2018 21:09

I think winning and not winning disputes often comes down to questions of power, which are about wider structural forces which are out of our hands. I do think there is such a thing as good tactics and bad tactics, and subjective factors that encourage militancy and solidarity but you don't always win a dispute just because your tactics were good, you were militant and you showed solidarity. You can be brilliant and still get smashed (I have lots of experience of this).

Mike Harman
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May 17 2018 21:09
Steven. wrote:
Not really sure what my point is. I guess basically that we shouldn't fetishise picketing, mass picketing or picketline violence. Normally disputes are won or lost because of other factors.

edit - cross post with fingers malone
No it's a really good point. I'd differentiate between scabs who is are employees breaking the strike (which shows division in the workforce itself), vs. agency workers being shipped in (which shows maybe some regional/industrial weakness but could be against a united striking workforce).

Also mass picketing shows more strength/miltancy than voting to accept a shit deal, or having a one-dayer that doesn't affect negotiations.

But I saw someone elsewhere (can't find it now) make the argument that no strike action can also be a sign of industrial strength - because where there's been previous militancy and exists a high level of organisation, employers know what might happen and can end up just offering pay rises for a few years to avoid further disputes.

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May 18 2018 11:45

Mike Harman #4

‘I mean it's both isn't it? The anti-picketing laws came in from Thatcher. But the enforcement of those rules happens first via the union apparatus (under threat of fines and etc.). Here's the BMA's guide to picketing saying only six people on a picket.’

I don’t think we’re too far apart on this point.
The union apparatus has always been conservative by its very nature. However it does not enforce the law/guidance (at the copper’s discretion), it does (or should) make sure its members are aware of the state’s infringement of their ‘rights’. The vindictive sequestration of the NUM’s funds must be etched in the minds of every union bureaucrat.

Some of the earliest strikes I was involved in were against Barbara Castle’s ‘In place of strife’ bill in 1969. Harold Wilson then the PM, was forced to kick the bill into the long grass. “Get your tanks off my lawn”, Wilson was supposed to have said to Hugh Scanlon the leader of the AUEW. As far as I know the unions have always opposed any laws that limit their ability to organise effectively.

Around this time an academic from Glasgow University addressed my branch of the SMWU. She informed us that she’d found an old minutes book and a reference to a notice pinned on a factory door stating that if conditions inside didn’t improve the property would be reduced to ash. This was before workers had won the right to organise. This right was seen as a victory and unions have been very careful to guard it. In structure the UK trade unions more resemble tortoises than tanks, as they are slow to move and are very defensive.

Some right wing union chiefs were glad to eventually see the anti-union laws, which saw the power of the shop stewards movement severely limited, as they were the militant driving force inside the unions, and were always a thorn in the side of the bureaucracy. Even so, most still wish to see the present laws repealed as the loss of membership is not in their interest.

Steven is right that the need to use mass pickets can be a sign of weakness. The same can be said of a long strike. Workers I’ve found use the all-out strike as a weapon of last resort.

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May 18 2018 12:46

So, trying to sketch out a rough periodization, I get:
Saltley gates - winter of discontent: rank-and-file militancy, cross pollinated with all kinds of stuff, destabilises the social democratic settlement
Thatcher: start of the big bosses' offensive to try and break those sources of workers' power
1984-5: big turning point, defeat of our praetorian guard as mentioned above
Wapping?: end of the big defensive struggles, unions in most sectors defeated
Poll tax: big victory for our class in the middle of a period of general defeats
????: is the main story since then just "everything bad all the time", are there notable differences between say, 90s, 2000s and post-crash?

Would be particularly interested to hear more about a) general impressions from people like Fingers and Auldbod who were around - how does the current situation of " everything's pretty fucked, but at least the academics or whoever are putting up a decent fight" compare to your 90s "everything's pretty fucked, but at least the Liverpool dockers are putting up a decent fight", and b) trends in workers' autonomy and non-TUC militancy - how do today's IWW/IWGB/UVW struggles, or things like the Durham TAs semi-autonomy, measure up against, I dunno, 90s DAM networks, Workmates or McDonald's Workers Resistance?

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May 18 2018 14:12
R Totale wrote:
So, trying to sketch out a rough periodization, I get:
Saltley gates - winter of discontent: rank-and-file militancy, cross pollinated with all kinds of stuff, destabilises the social democratic settlement
Thatcher: start of the big bosses' offensive to try and break those sources of workers' power
1984-5: big turning point, defeat of our praetorian guard as mentioned above
Wapping?: end of the big defensive struggles, unions in most sectors defeated
Poll tax: big victory for our class in the middle of a period of general defeats

On the early bit, I think the timescale is a little off.

I would say that initially what caused the crisis was more the little stuff: in the 60s it's not like there were massive, well-known strikes. However there were endemic wildcat strikes everywhere (over 90% of all strikes were unofficial); and more than that workers won improvements by simply threatening to strike, or demanding them. Reading old issues of Solidarity for Workers Power is really helpful at getting a view of this kind of situation.

There was also widespread refusal of work.

This general situation probably peaked in 1972 and 1974 with the victorious miners' strikes, the latter of which brought down the government.

This is covered quite well in the working class history podcast interview with John Barker (https://soundcloud.com/workingclasshistory/angry-brigade-part-1)

With the global crisis in 1973, that basically triggered the capitalist counteroffensive. This was well underway by the time the Winter of Discontent began, which is worth remembering was a defensive struggle, as inflation and the union-Labour government imposed wage freeze was cutting real wages.

Labour was trying to slowly erode the power of the working class – through a wage freeze, in place of strife, then heavy-handed policing and legal action against strikers like at Grunwick. However the Tory plan was to smash it outright, which they began doing after they won the 1979 election. First dividing workers and going after them one group at a time, first going after the steel workers, culminating with the miners in 1984, then the print workers.

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May 18 2018 14:17
R Totale wrote:
Saltley gates - winter of discontent: rank-and-file militancy, cross pollinated with all kinds of stuff, destabilises the social democratic settlement
Thatcher: start of the big bosses' offensive to try and break those sources of workers' power
1984-5: big turning point, defeat of our praetorian guard as mentioned above
Wapping?: end of the big defensive struggles, unions in most sectors defeated
Poll tax: big victory for our class in the middle of a period of general defeats
????: is the main story since then just "everything bad all the time", are there notable differences between say, 90s, 2000s and post-crash?

I'd agree with the rough periodisation with some of Steven's modifications, and I'm equally not sure how much difference there is in workplace struggles in the last three decades, although the '00s FBU and postal strikes seemed like the end of something for me (particularly with break up of Royal Mail, closing of London fire stations etc).

I think we could also overlay this with non-workplace struggle in the UK during the same period.

So mid-'70s -> '81 - battle of lewisham to 1981 Brixton/Toxteth riots. Asian Youth Movements.

Miners '84 -> Brixton riot, Broadwater Farm '85, Wapping '86.

Poll tax was followed by lots of little local riots around the UK, there's some discussion of this in Hot Time: https://libcom.org/library/hot-time-summer-estates-riots-uk-1991-2

Between the Poll Tax and the dockers there was the anti-roads movement, Twyford Down, Wanstead.

Post-dockers dispute: summit hopping.

2003 anti-war movement.

2010/11 students, Stokes Croft, London riots, Occupy.

There was concrete co-operation between RTS and the dockers in '96-ish. I feel like some of those connections got lost between the mid '90s stuff and the summit hopping, but then the connections in the mid '90s were only sometimes there too (iirc Wanstead roads protests had a lot of local working class support, but some others were completely isolated activists in a field).

Obviously some of the people who were students in 2010 are now post-graduate lecturers just recently on strike, which is at least a small sign of some working class organisation and continuity, compared to people being anarchists for a year then joining the Labour Party.

Not sure what conclusions there are from this. One thing I do feel is that 1990-2008 was sort of a long period of defeats of last stands. But 2008-2018 has felt like (potentially at least) the start of a new cycle of struggles, especially when you look at the international situation. And that in turn could be linked to the 'collapse of the centre' stuff with party politics.

I'd also add, at least for Prol Position writing at the time, and also for me maybe, the 2003 postal wildcat marked a 'return' of wildcat strikes after a long lull, in a similar way that 2010/11 marked a return of mass street protests not seen since 2003.

So maybe talking about 1990-2005-ish and 2003-2018 is more useful than pre/post 2008, if it's useful at all.

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May 18 2018 21:20

Early nineties had several militant disputes that lasted a long time and ended in defeat, I think Timex, Burnsalls, Magnet, and the Liverpool Dockers are all part of this strike wave though I don't know how much connection there was between workers in them.

Timex was a strike against layoffs in a factory in Dundee in 1993 in which over 300 striking workers were sacked and replaced with lower paid workers. The strike ended in bitter defeat.

Magnet, in Darlington in 1996, lasted three years and also involved workers being sacked and replaced. In the end the workers voted to accept a payout.

Burnsall, at a metal work factory in Birmingham, was over union recognition, unequal pay for women and bad conditions. Racism was a factor and a picket was stabbed by racists.

Liverpool Dockers- the only strike I was involved with at all, and that only slightly. A couple of bus loads of people went up to Liverpool and stayed for the whole weekend. There was a day of meetings with the dockers and the next day we occupied various sites connected with the strike and helped bulk up the picket line. The strike originally started because casualised dockers had a picket line and permanent dockers refused to cross it and were sacked.

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May 18 2018 21:38

The anti strike laws of the 1980s, in brief summary:

1980 Employment Act- outlaws 'secondary action' or solidarity strikes and brings in 'six pickets' rule
1982 Employment Act- restricts strikes to certain issues, bans 'political' strike action, makes unions financially liable for damages caused by strikes
1984 Trade Union Act- requirement for secret ballot for strikes, withdrawal of benefits for strikers (including free dinners and other assistance for children)

When people say that we have some of the worst anti strike laws in Europe, it's true and they have a serious effect on industrial action.

Warrington dispute is in 1983. There is a lot about it in a book about the Wapping print dispute which I will need to find. One thing relevant about Warrington, the miners strike and the Wapping print dispute is that the unions and the workers disobeyed the anti strike laws en masse in all these disputes and were faced with a deployment of state violence to a very high level.

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fingers malone
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May 18 2018 22:10
R Totale wrote:
trends in workers' autonomy and non-TUC militancy - how do today's IWW/IWGB/UVW struggles, or things like the Durham TAs semi-autonomy, measure up against, I dunno, 90s DAM networks, Workmates or McDonald's Workers Resistance?

This is a good question and I wish I could answer it better.

There's a wildcat dispute in a solfed pamphlet about organising in the dispatch industry (it's called 'the couriers are revolting' and it's here https://libcom.org/library/the-couriers-are-revolting-the-despatch-industry-workers-union-1989-1992 ) I read this while the deliveroo dispute was going on.

Workmates is a more widespread kind of organising I would say, workers who are well organised and are able to assert some control over their own work and have capacity for autonomous struggle often within a mainstream union, this is more common in my experience than people setting up a new organisation outside of any formal union. DIWU (Dispatch Industry Workers Union) was one example of the latter, McDonalds Resistance was another and sadly I can't think of any others.

There's a book about organising amongst the London cleaners in the seventies, I've also read an article by some feminists who got involved with organising cleaners in the eighties, these were both things I read in hardcopy years and years ago and can't provide links to, but organising in the cleaning sector definitely goes back 40 years at least.

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Red Marriott
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May 18 2018 22:20

On cleaners' struggles in the 70s;
http://libcom.org/history/housing-cleaners-struggles-london-1960-70s-may-hobbs
http://libcom.org/history/jolting-memory-nightcleaners-recalled-sheila-rowbotham
No one seems to know what happened to May Hobbs but her book is good.

ajjohnstone
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May 18 2018 22:55

My (albeit cynical) opinion as someone once active in picketing was that too many of those on strike consider it as a holiday or a free day to do household chores (sometimes fully understandable with work pressures).

Too many turn up only to vote at the return-to-work meetings, otherwise, whether supporters of the strikes or not, they are usually invisible. I am sure some here are well acquainted with the phone calls at home from colleagues asking for info on the strike rather than those people finding out for themselves first-hand

The only counter-measure is that local union officials use the picket line as the venue for daily updates on the strike's progress. But also ensure that some sort of carnival/bbq atmosphere prevails. Who seeks to spend a dull day at a factory-gate.

sawa
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Jun 7 2018 07:12
ajjohnstone wrote:
My (albeit cynical) opinion as someone once active in picketing was that too many of those on strike consider it as a holiday or a free day to do household chores (sometimes fully understandable with work pressures).

Too many turn up only to vote at the return-to-work meetings, otherwise, whether supporters of the strikes or not, they are usually invisible. I am sure some here are well acquainted with the phone calls at home from colleagues asking for info on the strike rather than those people finding out for themselves first-hand

The only counter-measure is that local union officials use the picket line as the venue for daily updates on the strike's progress. But also ensure that some sort of carnival/bbq atmosphere prevails. Who seeks to spend a dull day at a factory-gate.

Anyone know if it's legal to have a bbq on a picket line? Haha just hot weather lately.

But yeah lots will be due to 6 person rule interpreted as law and generally small percentage of union membership who are actively involved or organising. If it's hard to get folk to vote in a ballot it is even harder to get folk to get up early and stand on a picket line.