Men fight and lose the battle, and the thing that they fought for comes about in spite of their defeat, and when it comes turns out not to be what they meant, and other men have to fight for what they meant under another name. (William Morris - A Dream of John Ball)

Thursday, February 27, 2014

On Activism

As a member ‎of UNISON's National Executive Council (NEC) I am very aware of how many of our branches struggle forward with too few activists.

Indeed, as I write, I can almost hear one respected Branch Secretary colleague explaining how she "writes the theme tune, sings the theme tune"...

I am acutely aware of how many of my fellow UNISON Branch Secretaries long for a few more active trade unionists to help share the burden of the work that has to be done.

I realise therefore that, in many ways, I am in a fortunate position even to be able to differentiate between activists and "activists".

Nevertheless, since it is essential to the survival of our union movement in the twenty first century (and hence to the future of humanity) that we encourage, nurture and develop activism, I think it worth sharing a few views about the difference between activism ‎and it's simulacrum ("activism").

The thing about activism is that it is a noun derived from a verb. To be an activist is to be active.

For example, this evening I was proud to lead a UNISON deputation to Lambeth Council to address Councillors about the budget cuts they were about to make. Those who accompanied me, in the deputation or in the gallery, were activists.

Other activists couldn't be there as they had other commitments. That's always understood.‎ One of the things activists are familiar with is being double-booked!

"Activists" on the other hand are those who go to the pub rather than show support for members of their own trade union branch expressing, to their main employer, opposition to further cuts in jobs and services.

"Activists" are often to the fore when criticising fellow trade unionists for not being sufficiently forthright, or militant. Yet when the occasion for forthright militancy in fact presents itself that is the moment at which reality sorts out the difference between (real) activists and "activists".

Earlier this afternoon I was honoured to be amongst activists at a joint UCU/UNISON meeting at Lambeth College - where rank and file workers discussed and agreed tactics in a fight against utterly unreasonable proposals from their employer. Among those members were activists whom I am proud to call comrade.

I have the great privilege of being one of the Branch Secretaries of a trade union branch with a proud tradition of activism going back (at least) to the 1980s. The genuine activism which I saw this afternoon at Lambeth College and this evening among the deputation at Lambeth Town Hall continues this proud tradition.

Regrettably I have also had recent experience of "activism" (as opposed to activism) and therefore of the conduct of those who are radical in word rather than deed. I fear that those who announce their being "activists" without bothering actually to demonstrate activism are no real friends to trade unionists nor assets to the struggle for the emancipation of humanity.

I look forward ‎to continuing to work with activists - and to hearing less and less from "activists" whose deeds never match their words.

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

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