Trade Unions must fight for the right to strike !

Posted: April 5, 2011 in Labour Fight

Trade Unions must fight for the right to strike !

Today the US union confederation AFL-CIO has called a day of action – We Are One
in support of trade union rights in the light of the Wisconsin ban on industrial action and termination of collective bargaining in the public sector. The state has turned the clock back decades in the face of major opposition from the public who had staged massive protests. The union leadership have been found wanting and this has undoubtedly helped a similar bill passing into law in Ohio. This is covered in more detail here by friends on the other side of the pond.

This is what we can expect in Britain from the ConDem government. Cameron and co are already making noises about curbing union rights further, in particular in the public sector.

Any opposition from the union leaders that goes beyond rhetoric will lead to renewed threats. Basically, if you dare to strike, we will ban strikes! If the unions aren’t prepared to use the means by which workers can defend themselves then what is the point of unions?! The previous ‘Labour’ government did next to zero to reverse the Thatcherite anti-union laws that have become shackles on the movement, at least when that movement is largely lead by bureaucrats that are afraid of their own shadow!

Employers are already using the law to place injunctions on those unions who have been using strikes to defend their members’ jobs and terms and conditions. The RMT transport workers’ union have had several ballots ruled out of order on minor technicalities. Both ASLEF, the train drivers’ union and RMT won a recent challenge to this in the Court of Appeal which was rightly celebrated as a victory in the battle for trade union freedom. But there is a long way to go for as long as reactionary legislation on union rights remains on the statute book. This why the Campaign to Repeal the Anti-Trade Union Laws is key and why the union leaderships must be prepared to fight to change the law but also to lead struggles that break the law.

In recent years, workers have defied these laws and shown that mass action and workers’ democracy is stronger than the bosses’ rules on ballots. The postal ballot, the timescales for notice of intended action, solidarity action and even stipulations on the number of people stood on a picket line were introduced, by Thatcher, only for the benefit of the bosses. In recent years, a number of workers have drawn the conclusion that they must therefore ignore them! Notably, construction workers at oil refineries, who held mass meetings at which they voted for action over jobs and terms and conditions and prison officers, who struck and held mass pickets over pay, even though they are banned from taking strike action altogether !

It would be a start though if the unions were to make more use of the rights that that they currently have got. Like in the US, where the union brass are looking to the Democrats for some form of salvation, in Britain for the big unions in local government and health, where thousands are jobs are under threat, the focus seems to be on the May council elections. There is likely to be a meltdown for the Lib Dems, punished for their role in propping up the Tories in government and Labour could well win control of many councils. But will they use it to oppose the cuts agenda? The unions, alongside the anti-cuts movement, will have to create the pressure needed to ensure that they do. This pressure may keep some libraries open, save a nursery or day centre for the elderly, prevent closure of a hospital. It may stop the jobs hemorrhage in some councils. These are important battles to be had and won.

However, in the final analysis the only thing that will halt the government in its tracks is all-out industrial action across the public and private sectors and mass demonstrations. The current leadership of the Labour Party and Trade Unions will need to be prepared to engage in a fight of their lives to lead even half the struggle needed, even were they genuinely opposed to the cuts or indeed the system that underlies them. There is therefore an urgent need to build a new leadership that will begin the construction of a genuinely revolutionary party. This party will be capable of challenging the attacks issued by Capitalism by challenging the Capitalist system itself. It will prepare the working class for the overthrow of Capitalism, in order that working people can take control of their own affairs in order to build a new society that benefits humanity as a whole.

–        For Trade Union freedom ! Repeal the anti-trade union laws !

–        For Trade Union and workers’ solidarity !

–        Build a new leadership ! For a revolutionary party !

–        Organise the general strike now !

Len Matthews


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