trade unions – fit for purpose? edinburgh global commune, 29th january

In both the UK and Ireland today, the overwhelming majority of trade union leaders have signed up to social partnerships. These effectively reduce unions to a free personnel management service for the employers. However, the traditional Broad Left response of electing alternative leaders has shown itself unable to counter social partnerships. Indeed many current union leaders, who now accept social partnership, were themselves earlier Broad Left members.

The third Global Commune event, jointly sponsored by the Republican Communist Network and The Commune, asks the question – “Trade unions – Are they fit for purpose?” A number of different approaches to organising workers will be discussed in workshops over the day. All welcome: registration 10.30 for 11.00-16.30 meeting, at the Out of the Blue Centre, Dalmeny Street, Leith, Edinburgh.


£5 for full-time employed
£2 for others

11.00 – 12. 30

Panel followed by workshop sessions and follow up plenary

1. Working within trade unions – the rank and file perspective – Allan Armstrong

Allan is a member of the Republican Communist Network and the commune group. He was the convenor of Lothian Rank & File Teachers and involved in the three month long independent industrial action of Scottish teachers in the mid-70’s. He later became the Chair of the first regional Anti-Poll Tax Union, which was formed in Lothian.

2. Working with the IWW – Alberto Durango

Alberto is a member of the Latin American Workers Association, UNITE and the IWW. He is worker from Colombia who has been centrally involved in the campaigns of migrant workers cleaner in London. This culminated in an attempt to victimise him by the Swiss bank, UBS, which prompted a solidarity campaign. UNITE union officials tried to sabotage this, so Alberto has looked to the IWW (which comes from an industrial unionist tradition) to organise cleaners.

3. Building the Independent Workers Union – Tommy McKearney

Tommy is an organiser for the Independent Workers Union in Ireland. He is also the editor of Fourthwrite, a journal designed to promote debate amongst communists, socialists and republicans. Ireland was the first place in these islands where a government/employer/trade union social partnership was formed. The IWU was created to organise workers opposing social partnership.

4. Supporting workers from outside – an autonomist perspective – Mike Vallance

Mike comes from an autonomist tradition, writes for Counterinformation and is involved in the Autonomous Centre for Edinburgh (ACE). Mike was a dedicated activist in the anti-poll tax struggle. ACE has recently been providing support to the street cleaners employed by Edinburgh City Council. They have been involved in a longstanding dispute, hamstrung by local UNITE officials.

How do communists organise in trade unions? – Stuart King

Stuart is a member of Permanent Revolution. He will be drawing on the experience of the Minority Movement in the early Communist Party to show possible lessons for today.

1.30 – 15.00

Community unionism –
Should trade union membership be confined to employed workers? Patricia Campbell and Paul Stewart

Patricia is a member of the IWU and has been centrally involved in health workers struggles in Belfast. She has also been to Palestine to examine the health implications of the Israeli occupation. Paul is co-author of We Sell Our Time No More – Workers Struggles Against Lean Production in the British Car Industry. He has produced a short film, which will be shown. This shows examples of union organisation in the community, particularly in Japan.


15.00 – 15.15 – break


15.15 – 16.30

Repeat workshops followed by plenary

There will be a chance to continue the discussion informally afterwards.

Further information can be had by contacting Allan Armstrong at:-

2 thoughts on “trade unions – fit for purpose? edinburgh global commune, 29th january

  1. Some relevant and electronically accessible material

    ‘Rank & File or Broad Left? – A History of the Building Worker Group’, by Brian Higgins (published by the Colin Roach Centre – copies available at the third Global Commune event) see review at:-

    Independent Workers Union (IWU) (Ireland) –

    Latin American Workers’ Association –
    Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) (UK) –

    Autonomous Centre, Edinburgh (ACE) –

    Permanent Revolution:-


  2. I have received the request from below from Mike Vallance of the Autonomous Centre in Edinburgh.

    I have also received a message from Jerry Hicks, who was originally invited as a speaker putting the case for a the rank and file approach. I have also given you Jerry’s blog address.
    yours in struggle,

    Allan Armstrong

    Hi Allan,

    sorry about the long delay in replying, I was trying to juggle with previous arrangements………………unfortunately I have failed! So I will not be able to make what will be a great event. Thank you so much for considering me as a speaker and please convey my best wishes and solidarity,

    kind regards,

    Edinburgh Muckraker – several thousand copies distributed of each issue of this independent news-sheet supporting Edinburgh’s council workers in struggle against attacks on wages and conditions
    Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty

    Hi Alan
    if you could circulate these urls that would be great, the muckraker one is particularly relevant to the solidarity work we have been doing with the bin workers and street cleaners

    thanks v much


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