Practice and Tactics

Being in a trade union is not in itself a way to gain power over our lives. It is simply the first step.

The world of work has changed over the last decade. Established unions have been preoccupied with trying to maintain membership in traditional parts of the economy while precarious work has become more common in large areas of the private sector where most people are working.

The tactics and tools used to gain power in these workplaces – hospitality, tourism, retail, financial services, care, distribution and many others – need to be reconsidered in light of these changes.

BetterThanZero regularly brings people together to talk about how we want the trade union movement we are forging to look like, to discuss the use of language, tactics, and ways of creating community and identity. Many of the efforts of precarious workers have a very old lineage.

It is important not to rely on single tactics like strikes but to consider other practical ways of acting. We come together, learn together and develop ways of acting together at Take Control courses.

Last year we spent three days at a residential school to explore how to build power, developed by Amy Westwell, a specialist on the history of tactics, for the Young Workers Project. If you would like to find out more about the school, contact Cailean Gallagher at


At the summer school we thought about the history of different ways to build power at work, that were not based on walking out of work in a strike or leaving the workplace. These included actions in the workplace, such as slowing down the rate of work, or damaging the things that the bosses rely on to make their profit. The general term for tactics like this is sabotage.

Through building solidarity, strikes, sabotage, and other tactics, workers in unions are aiming to get paid at a higher rate, or to get other advantages. Often when bosses sense that workers are becoming more united, they will start to be more generous. They might offer more benefits, or promote certain people who are involved in building the collective identity.

When bosses start to offer treats, this is a sign that they are concerned about the bigger gains to be won by organising.

The basic situation of precarious work is this. On your own, as a worker, you are at the mercy of the boss. When you come together, you can turn the tables and win better wages, hours, and working conditions.