WSF (1999): “Reclaim Our Unions! No! to the ‘Checkoff'”
From Workers Solidarity, magazine of the Workers Solidarity Federation, volume 5, number 1, second quarter 1999. Complete PDF is here
WHAT IS THE “CHECKOFF”?
The checkoff system is the system where the bosses act as bankers for the union by taking union fees out of our wages and handing them over to the union. This is “protected” in the Labour Relations Act (LRA).
WHY “NO!” TO THE CHECKOFF
The checkoff system is a sign of the present position of the unions and their relationship with the bosses. Firstly, the checkoff breaks direct contact between union members in the workplace and the union officials. Secondly, it makes the union seem more like an outside thing that we hire, rather than our own organisation that we take part in and control and thirdly, it involves management in internal relationships that are none of its business.
If union treasurers receive money from the company for fees collected by checkoff, they might be more worried about the happiness of the company than our happiness
When we pay our fees, how do we know where our money is going? If we do not have access to this information, it can easily lead to union officials abusing their positions and using our money to get rich. We need to have full access and control over how our fees are spent. We must demand that all union books be kept open so that we can inspect them at anytime. There must be efficient record-keeping and rigidly honest accounting with monthly statements sent to all locals of the union.
Instead of paying fat-cat salaries to the union officials, we can use this money to help our brothers and sisters on strike, start workers schools to teach basic reading and writing skills as well as revolutionary theory and practice, help build our communities and much more.
Where there is no checkoff, the way fees are paid shows exactly how happy workers are with the union. Union officials who don’t want to listen to us or to serve us, most often want the checkoff. Then, if they do something we don’t like, they are not faced with the possibility of us not paying and don’t have to face our anger.
WHAT SHOULD REPLACE IT?
There is a simple and convenient alternative to the checkoff. Membership fees can be collected by the Shop stewards elected by us and then passed on to the local branch. The local can then keep what it needs for itself and pass the rest on to the regional. All this must be constantly checked by a committee elected at each meeting which must constantly refer back with its findings to those that elected it. There must be no “General Expense” accounts!
FORWARD TO UNION RANK-AND-FILE CONTROL AND WORKERS CONTROL OF SOCIETY AND THE ECONOMY.