Set up a bank account well before you go on strike

Strikes eat money – for everything from hardship payments to members to printing of leaflets and fares to meetings and events. Luckily, strikes raise money too – as long as you ask for it. To raise money effectively, you need a bank account. Setting one up takes time, so do it well before you need it. This article explains why and how.

If you’ve not been on strike before it can be hard to see how you can raise money. The media presents strikers as greedy and selfish. Strikers themselves can be focussed on the details of their dispute with their own employer and struggle to imagine why anyone else would care.

In some cases a strike might connect with defence of some important public service. My own workplace is in the private sector, but we’ve still been overwhelmed with solidarity and support whenever we’ve taken action. The reasons are simple. Firstly, employers are all up to similar mischief, so the issues you face are likely to be ones others face or fear they will face. If you win, their own employers may be less aggressive, and other workers will feel more confident to fight. Secondly, not many people are striking at the moment, so anyone who does can expect a lot of attention within the labour movement. If other workers are not confident to fight back themselves, they may still wish they could, and want you to win.

How to go about raising money would be another article. This one focusses on why and how to set up a bank account.

Quite a few strikes in recent years have relied on online crowdfunding to raise money. This is a great way to get individual donations from far and wide. But it isn’t so good for getting donations or collections from other union branches or workplaces. They typically want an account to either bring cash to your picket line or send the money to an account so that it’s clear where the money has gone when their own accounts are audited. Crowdfunding sites also tend to take quite a slice of the money themselves.

In some cases you’ll be able to use an existing bank account e.g. a union branch. In other cases that won’t be possible or advisable. A key issue is control. Many strikers have asked for donations to be sent to their union’s region, but then it has been very difficult and slow (or even impossible!) for strikers themselves to access the money. In other cases having your strike fund mixed up with other funds can cause problems, or your branch treasurer might be unwilling to cope with the additional workload of administering the strike fund. This article assumes you need to set up a new account.

Setting up a bank account these days takes time, thanks to all the checks designed to prevent money laundering. The account you want isn’t a personal one, it’s a “clubs and societies” account. These accounts can have the name of an organisation rather than a person, and you can have multiple signatories on the account.

First work out which bank you want to use. You’ll usually want one that has a convenient branch for the main people who will be running it. A lot of groups used to use the Coop because of their labour movement roots and ethical reputation, but many are choosing other banks since the Coop closed the Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s account.

Get the necessary forms from the bank you’ve chosen and read them carefully. Typically they will require a copy of your group’s “constitution” along with minutes of a meeting where it was decided to set up the account. Often they will have a specific motion they require you to pass. You need to check your bank’s specific requirements.

You may already have a suitable “organisation” you can use to own the bank account. We didn’t, so we set up a “club” for the purpose. Here’s an example constitution if you need to set up a club:

Name of Club – Constitution and Rules

1)    Aims
The Name of Club (hereinafter referred to as “the group”) aims to:
a)    Encourage trade union recruitment, organisation, solidarity and campaigning
b)    Support and encourage participation in relevant progressive campaigns
c)    Encourage cooperation between unions organising workers in the name of industry
d)    Oppose discrimination and promote equality with an emphasis on workers in the name of industry and name of area.

2)    Organisation
a)     Any person supporting the Aims of the group and accepting these Rules shall be eligible to apply to become a member of the group.
b)     Applications for membership shall be determined by the officers’ committee.
c)     There shall be an Annual membership meeting which will elect officers, cheque signatories and the auditor, and approve the accounts for the previous year.
d)     Additional meetings will take place if:
i.    Agreed by a membership meeting, or
ii.    Called by the officers’ committee, or
iii.    The secretary receives a request, signed by at least one-quarter of the members, which sets out the business to be discussed by the meeting.  Such a meeting will be called within 14 days of receipt by the Secretary of the request.
e)    The activities of the group shall be decided by membership meetings or by the officers’ committee.
f)    All expenditure shall require two signatures, neither of which may be the payee.
g)    Decisions will be taken by a simple majority vote, and may be at a meeting or otherwise.

3)    Officers
a)     The membership meeting shall elect annually, at its first meeting in the calendar year, a Chair, a Secretary, a Treasurer, an Auditor and other such officers as it deems necessary.  Any vacancies in Officer positions may be filled by election by and from the membership as they arise.
b)     The Chair, Secretary, Treasurer and other such officers as the members may decide at the time of their election shall form the officers’ committee.
c)     The duties of the Chair shall be to chair meetings; to secure agreement of the members to the agenda for discussion at each meeting; to secure a full and frank discussion of all matters of contention and an expeditious conduct of uncontentious business.
d)     The duties of the Secretary shall be to take minutes of the decisions of all meetings; to conduct any correspondence arising from the decisions of the membership meetings; to maintain the list of members; to report all correspondence and communications received; to seek to ensure that all those entitled to attend receive notice of meetings; to seek to ensure that all those entitled to vote on any decision have the opportunity to do so.
e)     The duties of the Treasurer shall be to receive and bank all monies due to the group; to pay all liabilities incurred by the group; to reimburse the officers and members any expenses they properly incur in carrying out the approved duties assigned to them; to report on the group’s financial position; to prepare an annual income and expenditure account and balance sheet, which shall be presented to the first membership meeting in each calendar year. The Treasurer shall submit the annual income and expenditure account and balance sheet, together with all relevant paperwork (e.g. the cash book, bank statements and all receipts and copies of invoices), to the Auditor at least one month before the membership meeting at which the annual financial report will be presented.
f)     The duties of the Auditor shall be to conduct annually an audit of the financial records maintained by the Treasurer and to certify whether the income and expenditure account and balance sheet prepared by the Treasurer are a true and correct record of the financial transactions and a true and correct statement of the financial position of the group. The Auditor must not be an officer or a signatory to the bank account.
g)     The duties of any other officers elected by the membership meeting shall be as decided by the membership meeting.
h)     The officers’ committee may agree to allow an officer to delegate part of their duties where appropriate.

4)    Dissolution
The group shall be dissolved by a resolution of a special membership meeting called for this purpose.  Not less than fourteen days’ notice shall be given by the Secretary to all members of a membership meeting at which a motion to dissolve the group shall be considered.  The notice of the meeting shall contain the terms of the motion to dissolve the group.

5)    Changes to rules
These rules may be amended by a resolution of a special membership meeting called for this purpose.  Not less than fourteen days’ notice shall be given by the Secretary to all members of a membership meeting at which a motion(s) to amend the rules shall be considered. The notice of the meeting shall contain the terms of the motion(s) to amend the rules of the group.

Once you’ve got a group of people together who are willing to be club members and to take on the various roles, call a meeting of your club, agree the constitution, do your elections, and pass the motion required by the bank. You need to elect at least three signatories if you are going to require payments to be signed by two people, neither of which may be the payee.

Your officers will then need to fill in the form for the bank and take along various forms of ID to get the account set up. Some clubs and societies accounts do allow online banking.

If you want the strike fund to be controlled by a body (e.g. a stewards’ committee) other the club you’ve set up to run the bank account, to increase democratic accountability, that’s possible. Firstly, get your new club to pass a motion agreeing that any funds contributed will be spent as directed by the stewards’ committee. Then get the stewards committee to pass a motion agreeing to use the account for its strike fund. The stewards can then advertise the account as the place to send donations.

Some workplaces have set up their strike funds as charities. There are advantages to this in terms of tax etc., but for most strike funds you don’t expect to have much money in there for long so these are limited. The disadvantages are that the purposes for which you can use the money are more limited, and you have the extra bureaucracy of complying with Charity Commission rules.

Activists in some workplaces build up their funds over time, but this isn’t essential. Just having the account ready to use when you need it rather than trying to navigate the bank bureaucracy in the middle of a dispute is a huge help. Spending money to support other strikers is in many ways better than “money in the bank” as it means you’re likely to get solidarity when you need it most. Just a few hundred pounds in there at the start of a strike can help while your fundraising gets going.

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Organising contractors and building solidarity with the core workforce

As more and more companies are looking to outsource their workforces, it is vitally important that union reps look to organise outside as well as inside their workplaces.

Having always worked as a contractor we’ve generally received hostility from more organised core workers. Most companies currently seem to want their workforce divided into “core” and “periphery”, to keep workers divided and on a race to the bottom. The best starting point for organising would be for core workers to reach out to indirectly employed staff and use the advantages of their position to build solidarity between direct staff and contractors – but that doesn’t always happen.

Hard hat, worker

Photo by CEphoto, Uwe Aranas

When the core workers in my industry found themselves in dispute with the main company, I saw this as an opportunity to reach out to them. We rang the shop stewards and said we would provide whatever support we could, when the main employer contacted us to essentially act as scab labour we refused and notified workers at other contractors to do the same.

This gave us a position where the core workers realised they were stronger building links with us as contractors rather than thinking they could just sit in a privileged position. We used this opportunity to build links across all the connected companies, and started to meet on Friday evenings to find common ground and start to build on these foundations.

We’ve found health and safety to be a good organising tool, especially for the contracting workers who are worried about how their employer will react to the union. The strategy is to get the contracting managers to buy in to the support the union can provide around health and safety, then when the workers get recognition we can start to make demands.

We have already had some great success in negotiations but also some setbacks. It is clear to everyone the only alternative to organising, would be to accept everything that has been fought for and won, will be taken away without a fight.

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Mapping Your Workplace For Power On The Job

Mapping Your Workplace

Workplace mapping can be used to identify health and safety hazards or the strengths and weaknesses of union membership in any workplace. Our concern here, however, is building strong workplace organisation by providing the ‘big picture’ and the details of the workplace. Mapping must be a collective process done by as many stewards or activists as possible in face-to-face situations. This, in itself, is a step toward better organization across the workplace.

The first step is simply to draw the outlines of your workplace (plant, department, office) and the various work areas or stations, entrances, machines, desks etc., like that pictured above. Use a large piece of white paper like that from a flip chart, drawing the basic outlines with a marker in black. Using different colour markers you can then begin filling in the sort of information you find most useful. Here are some ideas:

  • location of stewards
  • location of managers or supervisors & their attitudes
  • identify work groups—those performing their work together
  • work paths—who moves where as a result of their job, mark in dotted lines for possible lines of communication between areas and work stations
  • meeting areas if any, where people take breaks
  • who talks to who
  • grievances most common in each area—are there common issues across the entire workplace? Can you make grievances collective?
  • Past turnout for strikes, actions, ballots, and other relevant activity in each area to identify stronger or weaker areas.

You, of course, may have a better idea of the information you need to be more effective. If your workplace is large you may want to make more than one map. Some people use transparent plastic sheets to overlay the sort so information listed above. Start out simple, picking the types of information you think will help most. Later you can fill in more. Mapping can help you construct some of the infrastructure of organising, such as phone trees and email or facebook networks. Remember, however, surveillance by management is universal these days, so don’t use any company communications systems.

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Resisting redundancies in an un-unionised workplace

Job cuts are hard enough to tackle with a strong union. How did workers resist and build organisation starting with just three union members? They didn’t save jobs, but winning higher redundancy payments boosted organisation and confidence.

After one week of redundancy consultation, faced with 50% job losses, we won double statutory redundancy pay for everyone, including those with less than two years’ service who wouldn’t have got anything at all. This might be an absolutely minuscule step for the international proletarian struggle, but for my tiny, unorganised, private sector workplace, this was a big achievement.

It is always worth a fight! Initially pretty much everyone was resigned to job cuts and shitty terms, me included. Class struggle is for the public sector, no? My office is like the definition of ‘tiny, no hope, private sector, young workforce, who gives a shit’. Then I thought I might as well give it a stab, even if we fail miserably. As it turned out we didn’t. Less than a week into the redundancy consultation we doubled our redundancy offer and we went on to challenge many of the redundancies.

We did it through collective action. A majority of staff signed a letter to management demanding a proper, extended, consultation process, and better financial compensation for those who would eventually leave. Signatories included many whose jobs were already safe, a real show of solidarity.  The letter had no legal leverage at all, but in a workplace which has previously seen no collective action, it was enough to terrify our owner into a pretty big financial concession.

Getting the letter together wasn’t easy. It required days of arguing, explaining, and redrafting to get people on board. I wanted to give up by day two, when I had booked a day off. I spent the first 3 hours writing it, then on Skype, asking colleagues who were in the office to put their names down and start circulating. Showing colleagues political principle and conviction to my workmates is what got them on board. If you’re a socialist in a workplace, your confidence and clarity will carry people a long way so it’s always worth trying.

You have to know and be nice to EVERYONE you work with if you want to organise effectively. Particularly in a young workplace where these kind of things carry lots of weight and there is no established culture/memory of collectivity or class struggle. I used to be really good at this when I worked full-time. I would organise office socials, find subtle ways to stir things up. I would go to the pub every Friday and make sure I knew everyone. When I went part-time I got lazy and stopped doing any of this, and it made my life harder when the redundancies hit, attempting to win people on side who I’ve barely exchanged a word with for the past 18 months. All the funny stunts I pulled at work before might seem ridiculous but they genuinely worked and laid the ground work for some people to trust me enough to discuss the way forward.

This is not the same thing as relying on personal relationships in a dispute. Some of the people I get along with most have been the flakiest and quickest to crumble. Two of the colleagues fighting the hardest, and happiest to join the union, were privately educated.

All struggles are hard and all workplaces are different, but in small offices it can be really really tough to find the will to fight your boss. Long standing personal relationships with management obscure power relations and present one of the biggest obstacles. Our immediate boss was being chopped himself but felt forced to oversee the restructure by the owner. But tough shit, that’s what happens when you become a manager. Convincing everyone else that, as a buffer between us and the owner, we have no choice but to put pressure on him was hard. People felt the manager is a ‘‪#‎NiceGuy‬’ and they feel guilty about making his life hell. Because people are essentially good and decent, no amount of economic reasoning will change this. Convincing them that they should fight him for their own financial gain, or even to save their jobs, will be fruitless when they see how tired and demoralised he is from the process, and they feel sorry for him. This says lovely things about human nature but depressing things about class consciousness.

The same goes for unionising and legal advice. It’s really important to try to get people to unionise and to make sure they know their rights, and you should obviously demonstrate these at every opportunity as it scares the shit out of management and their fear helps us win. But, no amount of legal protection/guidance is going to give people the confidence to fight if they aren’t convinced of the wider reasons for doing so. Therefore you have no choice but to win people politically. The great thing about unorganised, small workplaces, is that you can cut through the crap and get straight to the meat of the argument. If they want us to propose an alternative restructure, how about a workers co-operative with the owner sacked, and his salary redistributed through the company? Why should he keep his job when it’s his mismanagement that’s got us here? Isn’t it our work that’s been making him rich all these years? These arguments are obviously far harder, but far more rewarding long-term and actually help build political ideas that people will carry into their next jobs/life in general. Introducing and winning these arguments is the biggest achievement so far.

This shit is hard, and harder in an office where everything is small and personal. If you work closely with the manager it will be particularly nasty. It doesn’t matter that he’s always been nice to you, that he let people change their hours or turned a blind eye to some stuff. You have to constantly remind yourself that all of this is meaningless when half of your colleagues are about to lose their livelihoods, and he’s the one implementing it. He WILL try to undermine you once he identifies you as the ring leader, and you will feel like shit. You will need the support of your friends and comrades outside of work to remind you you’re doing the right thing, and to keep you going, emotionally regenerating you every single night so that you can get up and face it in the morning.

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How I won union recognition in my workplace.

now japan

Firstly, be under no illusions, union organising is a slow and frustrating process.

You will need to have a strong will to see it through, including, biting your tongue, watching your back, being prepared to stay with your company, even though many colleagues will be jumping ship for better pay/conditions!

But remember, it’s for the better good and unless more of us do it, there soon won’t be any better paying jobs anyway.

The basics to organising and getting union recognition are this;
1. Get directly employed, on the books with a company
2. Get to know your workforce, i.e. who you can trust
3. Keep a low profile, don’t become spokesperson too soon etc.
4. Get involved with your local union branch and get to know your local union Full Time Officer, they are going to be crucial when the time comes for balloting for recognition and for your protection
5. Spark up conversations with people, one at a time, as and when you get the opportunity, about working conditions,wages etc and whether they think a union could help?
6. When you’ve built up a head of steam, sometimes months later, start to build a sense of injustice in the way the workforce is being treated by the employer, highlight all the grievances that they’ve had and drop the seed about what could be achieved, if only we had union recognition
7. All the time, actively recruit people into the union, without union members, it will be impossible to gain recognition as you need 50%+ of the overall workforce to vote for it
8. Now, you’re ready to ballot for recognition, get you’re union officer on board and up to speed. It’s extremely important to get accurate numbers of workers, their details I.e. union membership numbers, trades, whether they are directly employed or agency.

Once you involve the officer, they will take charge and guide you on what to do next but as long as you’ve achieved 50%+ of the whole workforce in favour of recognition, you’ve got it!

Now, the real work of winning disputes and changes bad practices as well as fighting for better wages and conditions begins. The first thing you must do, in the weeks following union recognition, is putting yourself forward for election as shop steward/health and safety representative.

This brings with it valuable training for yourself and helps you to get those gains for your, now, members.

Always remember, we are stronger together and so, it’s important to keep the company of good allies, don’t allow yourself to be singled out and always take the moral high ground on every issue.

Be under no illusions, the company will come after you, it’s up to you to be one step ahead of them.

There are no friendly managers, only helpful ones that can make things easier for you but don’t get drawn into accepting bribes and always be aware that they are in their position because they have done anything to get there and they will probably be trying to get some personal gain from your position as steward, don’t fall for it.

Above all else, educate yourself, read up on trade union disputes, blacklisting, relevant tribunal wins, HSE bulletins etc, power is knowledge.

I hope this short guide helps and remember, there is an army of union members out there and you are not alone.


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