There’s a question every trade unionist must stop and ask at some point: ‘what am I organising for?’
For Kirill Buketov, international campaign officer of the International Union of Food and Allied Workers (IUF), the central driver behind is fundamentally that ‘we are dissatisfied with the way the world is run.’ Putting this into positive action means being political – and possessing a few vital qualities.
Buketov raises some examples. In Moscow under the Soviet Union ‘what really shook the system is when workers went on strike.’ But to be successful, it took organisation and leadership. At first, workers struck without any idea what they wanted – state officials simply sent them back to work until they had some demands. It was only when they had a strategy that change began. In contrast, the Occupy movement was unsustainable and didn’t last because it lacked organisation.
For Buketov, every conflict is at root the same – ‘you need organisation, strategy and commitment to win – to fight until the very end’. He points also to the Kazakhstani oil workers’ struggle in 2011 when 26,000 workers walked out for six months. It was brutally crushed and achieved nothing. Why? They decided not to have organisation, changing their negotiators every time. There was no strategy or organisation.
But the most poingnant example is today in Ukraine. There, the Maidan movement was a genuinely popular democratic movement – and it achieved Yanukovich’ resignation. But right-wing forces abused the situation to lead the country after the left failed to create structures, organisation and strategy for when Yanukovich resigned. In sum, the right-wing were more prepared.
In a global economy however, if we want to be organised, we must work cross-borders. That’s where social media steps in – rank and file cross-border movements can utilise Facebook and Twitter to help build international platforms for organising people to fight and win.
The recent Thai shrimp industry slavery scandal, which the IUF is currently working on, shows that operating internationally for solidarity across borders is more vital than ever. To win, workers will need the ‘organisation, strategy and commitment’ that Buketov stresses is necessary. And with 250,000 slaves in the industry, they really do need to win.
Josiah Mortimer is a guest blogger for the Global Labour Institute’s third International Summer School for trade unionists at Northern College this week. The views expressed in this article are therefore solely those of the author in his personal capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of GLI.