Written by Martin Ralph – ISL
Wednesday, 27 November 2013 20:53
This government is offering nothing to public service workers and neither are the bosses to private sector workers.
Education minister, Michael Gove, has changed teachers’ contracts, introducing performance related pay to be determined by each school, fire-fighters have been threatened with an increased retirement age, many public sectors workers have been offered a pay freeze or a one per cent pay rise, such as university workers, and the Royal Mail has been privatised.
The storm of austerity, the class war against workers, is blowing in all directions, forcing five unions FBU, NAPO (national probation officers union), UCU, Unite, Unison to take national strike action.
The will to fight and win was demonstrated in the four national strikes made by the fire-fighters in October and November, the regional teachers strikes on 30 September, in the North-West and on 14 October, in the South-East, when the strike in London showed great combativeness.
Many local and regional strikes have achieved victories as in the North-East RMT strike, Unite at Hovis Wigan, CWU Postal workers Somerset, Fowler&Kings Liverpool and the UCU at Liverpool University.
The determination and strength of those fights could be repeated nationally and coordination of a national day of strikes could be made by the sectors that have already approved industrial actions, if there is the will and the drive.
The next national strike day for higher education unions is 3 December, which will be joined this time by the EIS in Scotland. Should the UCU in further education achieve a positive ballot on 18 November, they could also strike on 3 December. We call on rank and file union members to demand from their union leaderships to make this a national day of strikes and to start to build it. Let the real fight back begin against capitalism and the bureaucracy that supports capitalism.
Some leaderships retreat without a fight
The CWU held a consultative ballot in June with a 74 per cent turnout, of which 96 per cent voted to fight Royal Mail privatisation. But the CWU leadership stalled an actual ballot until September (after privatisation had commenced) over pay and conditions only, with no mention of a fight against privatisation. The day the privatisation was scheduled, the CWU held a meeting at London’s Mount Pleasant Mail Centre where general secretary Billy Hayes said: “Is it all over? Not for us it’s not. We exist to fight for our members regardless of the owners”.
With a pseudo-militant speech he tried to hide the shameful retreat he was making from fighting against privatisation, clearing the path for the government’s action. He went on to “forget” his words and called off the strikes just hours before picket lines were due to form. Many workers, angry with the leadership, expressed frustration at the decision to suspend strike action, and at such short notice before the commencement of the strikes, with some workers turning up for picket line duty only to find they had to go into work.
According to the CWU leaders, the Post Office was committed “to resolve the long-running dispute over pay and job security with a series of intensive talks”. How quickly they walked away from a fight when all that was on offer was “intensive talks”. How can rank and file postal workers have any confidence in their leadership?
The fire fighters’ union (FBU)were offered “talks” but only if a national strike was called off, which they did only to find that the government had nothing to offer, so strikes resumed.
The NUTargued that they could not strike without the NASUWT, who called off their action because Gove offered them “talks”. But he insisted that the government’s stance on pay and pensions was “fixed” and ruled out any possibility of change (Telegraph 7 November).
Despite NASUWT’s capitulation, NUT leadership’s behaviour is no better. On 29 September, the NUT leader Christine Blower said from the platform after Tory conference protest march, “I want you to protect our education service. We are fighting deregulation on teachers’ pay. We stand together. As many of you as can support our programme of rolling action [strikes]”. She then forgot her own words of “rolling action” and with the majority of the union’s national executive voted not strike.
Many union leaders are now making speeches about strike action next year! Do they think the workers are ready to fight just when they order it? No serious rank and file fighter can have any confidence in anyone who has called off the recent strikes. It is now essential to build oppositional rank and file organisations in the CWU, NASUWT and NUT against these pro-boss leaders in order to get back on the road of the fight against austerity.
Unite and its leader Len McCluskey carried out a huge retreat at Grangemouth’s oil refinery. The leadership failed to build a plan of struggle and caved into the dictates of the multi-national boss (see article on Grangemouth on this site). McCluskey agreed all the demands, against the the workers’ interests — such as freezing wages and prohibiting strikes for three years.
When asked if Unite had been humiliated by Ineos, McCluskey said “There is nothing humiliating about negotiating plans to ensure jobs and communities are safe”. It is the worst sort of defeat. A surrender without a fight is a humiliating retreat by this pro-Labour trade unionist and a huge setback for the working class.
Only workers democracy can bring victory
The dismantling of strikes and opposition was conducted peacefully by the union bureaucracy. So what is needed is a unified movement of workers opposing the retreats their leadership.
Decisions need to be taken in assemblies, and all officials need to be elected to restore democracy in the unions. Instead workers are called to hear the decisions of their leaders. The cancellation of strikes have not been voted for by the rank and file, which means the most important democratic union rights do not exist.
But there is a deeper issue. It is the anti-union law in England, introduced by Thatcher, which has been deepened and “perfected”, with the collaboration of several Labour governments.
The law requires secret ballots rather than in workplace meetings with a minimum four week delay between a decision to ballot and the date of any industrial action. These conditions remove a unions’ ability to respond quickly and are aimed at reducing the effectiveness of any action taken.
That is what allowed the lockout at Grangemouth before the strike began and, to some extent, the privatisation of Royal Mail in advance of strike action. Of course one of the main factors that remains here is also the collaboration of the unions’ bureaucracy. Despite all union conferences agreeing to call for the repeal of anti-union law, there is no campaign to mobilise workers against it.
Therefore the working class has no freedom to organise its own fight. The anti-union law is a direct interference by the bourgeoisie into the workers’ organisation and a guarantee of the perpetuation of the bureaucracy.
Need for new unions’ organisation
The privatisation of the Post Office and the Grangemouth humiliation are gains for capitalism and represent a blow against workers’ will to fight.
Workers have to reshape the union organisation in Britain and they must aim to remove and expel the bureaucracy from the trade unions.
This means that the rank and file should organise groups in each union to take control and discuss how they are going to put their unions back on the road to fight the bosses and the government.
Locally, branches have to work together, no matter which union they belong to, and organise joint meetings to overcome the current separation in workplaces.
The British working class has a double task: to fight capitalists and their parties in order to defeat the government’s austerity policy and fight the union leaders who support capitalism.
SWP support for CWU leadership is a scandal
Socialist Worker(no. 2375) published an article (As rich snap up Royal Mail shares, post workers get ready for strikes) that demonstrates the extent of the SWP’s role in their united front tactic with the union bureaucracy.
The day the Royal Mail was privatised, the CWU organised a meeting at London’s Mount Pleasant Mail Centre where deputy general secretary Tony Kearns said, “don’t think we’re going away—no matter who the prospective owners are”.
Sure, they will not go away; the pressure from below is tremendous with 78.29 per cent approving a strike action. But the leadership have done nothing to prevent the privatisation and in November called the national strike over wages and conditions off.
Socialist Worker has made no criticism of the complete capitulation by the CWU leadership. Even while recognising that “workers know that privatisation will bring more attacks on pay, pensions, jobs and contracts.” (Socialist Worker, no. 2374), they think the CWU leaders will fight “no matter who the owners are”.