in the union

For anyone of a solidaristic persuasion, one of the great seductions is to assume that being in a particular political tribe means we’re united in the face of conflict. As the referendum is likely to testify, our actual experience can be that when the balance tips in favour of fear, all solidaristic bets are off.



If you think the history of workplace organising can teach us anything, the reality is that even when we are politically and socially aligned, we can lose our faith in each other. Even when we can identify ourselves as one side or another, when we engage in politics we quickly find out we are not all the same and the problem is not just out there.



In our unions we can hide behind ideological defences, or retreat into a religiosity and righteousness. Some of us become so afraid of our own vulnerability that we become heroic to the cause. These defences turn the world into them’s and us’s – good people and bad people denying the reality that conflict turns some of us into cats, others into dogs, but rarely into lions.



Working in trade unions I learned a great paradox – that sometimes when we appeal to higher social values, we can become less rather than more human.



Solidarity is not a union of like minded folk who would never hurt each other. Solidarity as an ideal exists precisely because we are all capable of acting defensively and against our own human interests. In a context of economic and political conflict like the one we’re in now, if there is a fight to be had it is a psychological one. To continue to take the risk of practicing solidarity by making contact with other people who are not the same as us.



Sometimes the very best we can do is to be just human amongst other humans.



On the 9th July the 132nd Durham Miners’ Gala in all its glory will take place. Thousands of us will congregate to think and talk about the future of solidarity.


On the 8th July a public and open discussion will be held at the Miners’ Hall Redhills about how trade union education can create the psychosocial tools to build unions. The workshop is 11-4pm and will include contributions from Hilary Cave, head of education for the NUM during the miners’ strike and Elizabeth Cotton, who was head of education for the Miners’ International. The event will be skilfully facilitated by Keith Venables from the IWCE Network.



To book a place email [email protected]


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