Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/501/3111

From The Socialist newspaper, 13 September 2007

Editorial

Needed: a combative trade union movement

THE SUCCESSFUL strike actions of the Prison Officers Association (POA) and the RMT maintenance workers on London Underground have potentially changed the industrial situation in Britain to the benefit of trade unions and workers - provided they are immediately capitalised upon.

There is boiling anger at and outright rejection of Gordon Brown's strictures to the public-sector trade unions to observe 'pay discipline'. He proposes a miserly 2% increase in public-sector pay while prices, mortgages and council tax are shooting up. Brown does not utter a peep about City bonuses which have increased by 30% to a record 40 billion this year.

Nor about the 'wages' of chief executives which have zoomed into the stratosphere while millions are mired in ever-deepening poverty. The average boss-to-worker pay ratio of FTSE 100 companies is 98 to one. Giles Thorley is chief executive of Punch Taverns and 'earns' over 11 million a year, 1,148 times more than his employees' average salary.

Also, the directors of top British companies have built up pensions worth nearly 1 billion, with the average executive due to retire on 200,000 a year. Yet the roof falls in on Bob Crow and the RMT for seeking to defend, amidst the wreckage of Metronet, the conditions, including pensions, of their members. Crow is vilified, as was Brian Caton and the POA leaders - in the same way as all other workers' leaders in history - for doing their job, fighting for their members' interests.

The hirelings of capital in the media, dipping their pens in mad-dog saliva, seek to outdo each other in insults against the RMT, POA and any other militant union leader. On Facebook, 30 sites devoted to insulting Crow appeared, with one urging "disgruntled commuters" to send him a 'turd' through the post.

A new era of struggle

A MORE 'polite' offensive comes from those like Will Hutton, head of the Work Foundation, in an article in the Observer (9 September). He disputes that the underground strike was over a "vital matter of principle", arguing that the RMT and Crow were "trigger happy". Workers, he claims, went back "with the same promises" over redundancies, rights and pensions as had been offered before.

Yet, a few paragraphs later, he admits that Crow "did get slightly tougher assurances as a result". The truth is that neither Metronet nor the administrator gave written assurances until doing so as a result of the strike.

Hutton, a typical ideologist of the upper-middle-class, standing between the juggernauts of labour and capital, believes industrial struggle can be reconciled by the equivalent of a vicar's tea party. Like war itself, the class war sometimes involves a testing of wills through struggle and strikes. 'Weakness invites aggression' in the class struggle as well as in war, as every conscious trade unionist understands. Strikes are the only weapon to compel intransigent employers to accede to workers' demands.

Hutton wants the unions to become organisations for "coaching, mentoring and supporting employees as they sought career advancement, skills and work challenges. The right to bargain collectively would remain but within a solid framework of partnership with employers."

This philosophy of social 'partnership' - in reality, one between a rider, the bosses, and a horse, the working class - has been practised by the summits of the TUC. This has brought the trade union movement to its present state with a drop in membership and the muzzling of militancy - to the benefit of the bosses and the capitalist system as a whole.

Incredibly, Hutton and his Work Foundation are consultants to some unions, like the National Union of Teachers (NUT). His idea of "adult training" is akin to muzzling an already tame dog. The NUT's general secretary, Steve Sinnott, has not been sufficiently robust in defence of his members' pay in the present confrontation and will be less so if Hutton gets his way.

The essence of capitalism is the maximisation of profits by big business, which they have done very successfully in the past 20 years. This is partly because the trade union leadership, in general, has not stood up to either them or their political representatives in government.

Bob Crow and Brian Caton, alongside Mark Serwotka and the leaders of the PCS union, are not 'dinosaurs' nor are their members. In fact, they represent the 'modern' reawakening of a fighting trade union and labour movement. The POA has shattered the idea that the anti-union laws are an insuperable barrier to workers taking strike action in Britain. What a contrast to the dismal performance of the Transport and General Workers Union (now part of Unite) during the Gate Gourmet dispute!

The Guardian correspondent Marcel Berlins was compelled to admit that the prison officers' "act of mass disobedience should not be seen as irrelevant... A High Court judge ordered the cessation of a clearly unlawful industrial action, and thousands of strikers, including their leaders, took no notice."

The Financial Times declares that the "Underground is revolting", demanding that the management must "face down" the RMT. Yet, more soberly, Berlins poses the question: "What would have happened if thousands of strikers defied the court indefinitely? In such circumstances, is an injunction toothless? The strike leaders could be fined or even imprisoned for contempt of court." He concludes that the likely consequences would mean that "the law would, in practice, be powerless".

Those calling for 'partnership' defy the lessons of history. This was the approach of tame trade unions in the 19th century, broken because the change in the objective situation compelled trade unions to resist ferociously the bosses' offensive. We are in such a situation today, with accumulated anger and bitterness amongst workers, which will compel trade union leaders to lead the fight-back or be pushed aside.

For instance, the campaign for unified resistance of public-sector workers to the 2% limit seemed to have been dissipated by the prevarications of union leaders such as Dave Prentis of Unison and Steve Sinnott. But the RMT and the POA struggles have now transformed the situation. Unison's local government members have voted to reject the revised 2.475% offer. They are demanding 6 an hour and are organising an industrial action ballot. The PCS is also involved in similar consultation ballots on conditions and pay.

Music of the future

Even union leaders like Prentis and Sinnott are now under pressure to join in. All the public-sector unions should immediately declare that they are going to organise common action against the arbitrary 2% limit. If this limit is accepted against the background of an increase in prices of at least 6%, it would mean a substantial cut in living standards, particularly for the poorest sections of the working class.

Hutton tries to argue that dissatisfaction over pay and conditions is merely restricted to the public sector because those in private industry are increasingly enjoying "vitalist lives" and a "good work agenda". But even here, workers have fought for and achieved increases in pay through union strength well over the 2% limit.

Also, nuclear scientists and technicians have just won a 3.9% pay rise, nearly twice the maximum set by Brown. This is the music of the future not the outmoded 19th century philosophy of class collaboration, which the right-wing trade union leaders together with Brown and New Labour pursue.

No hope should be placed in the Labour Party under Brown's stewardship. He has made it abundantly clear that he stands on the side of the employers. He has shamefully invoked the figure of Thatcher, like Blair before him, as a 'conviction' politician, like himself! Socialist convictions, on which the labour movement is founded, would be welcome. But he is a 'convinced' advocate of capitalism, moreover in its brutal neo-liberal phase, of attacks on the living standards of working-class people.

We need a renewed, combative trade union movement - emulating what has been done by the RMT, POA and the PCS, which have increased membership through struggle - and a new mass workers' party. Hutton urges Bob Crow and the labour movement to abandon the "socialist project to transform the ownership and control of capital and capitalism".

Along the capitalist road advocated by Hutton, Brown and the tame trade union leaders who follow them is the worsening of conditions of the working class. The RMT, POA, PCS and the National Shop Stewards' Network, linked to the idea of a new mass workers' party, represent the future for working-class people.

Why not click here to join the Socialist Party, or click here to donate to the Socialist Party.


In The Socialist 13 September 2007:

Fighting Unions Need a New party

Postal workers: "We have the power!"

TUC conference: Standing up to Brown's attacks

Needed: a combative trade union movement


War and terrorism

Iraq: Get the troops out now


Workplace news and events

Tube workers' strike scores victory

Bosses get away with murder


Socialist Party NHS campaign

Nurses strike

Manchester cuts maternity services

Leeds - no more deficits and cuts


APEC summit

APEC summit: Thousands defy police crackdown


Socialist Party news and analysis

Overcrowded prisons, overworked staff

Keeping tabs on the millions?

A life of debt and poverty?


Socialist Party feature

Tory party struggles to recapture territory taken by New Labour


International news and analysis

Impressions of China


Socialist Party review

Robert Blincoe - a life that illuminates an age


 

Home   |   The Socialist 13 September 2007   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate  




Related links:

Trade union organisation:

triangleThe Socialist Inbox

triangleSocialists and the trade union leaderships

Class:

triangleFighting on class policies

triangleLand registry in third pay walk out

triangleCNWP conference: Wanted - a new mass workers' party

triangleThe working class needs its own party

RMT:

triangleRMT strikes against removal of train guards spreads

triangleGig economy exploiter Uber loses London licence

triangleEscalate summer strike wave into coordinated action to defeat the pay cap

POA:

triangleNSSN lobby of the TUC 2017: rank-and-file solidarity to smash the pay cap

triangleThe left unions and the Labour Party affiliation debate

Unions:

triangleRoyal Mail bosses block strike - back postal workers

Labour:

triangleSheffield Labour council threatens peaceful protesters with prison

Strike:

triangleArriva North West bus drivers strike over pay

PCS:

triangleConference on state spies: who's watching who?

Capitalism:

triangleCan you donate to the Socialism 2017 appeal?

War:

triangleOctober 1917 reviews: 'More bright than any heaven'

Metronet:

triangleLondon Underground signals victory

News and socialist analysis

News and socialist analysis

19/10/17

Refugees

Hundreds of torture victims wrongly detained

18/10/17

Brexit

Tories torn - bin them now

18/10/17

What we saw

What we saw

18/10/17

Food

Obesity epidemic: end food market anarchy

18/10/17

NHS

Tories scrap the NHS pay cap: now fight for real-terms pay rises!

18/10/17

Debt

Young people being strangled by debts

13/10/17

Labour

The end of the Tories?

11/10/17

Tories

Nasty party imploding...drive out the Tories

11/10/17

Black history

The fight against racial discrimination is tied to fighting against capitalist austerity

11/10/17

Housing

Housing crisis: Corbyn's positive measures blanked by Labour's right

11/10/17

Universal Credit

Major attacks 'Universal Credit', half a million more face poverty

11/10/17

Them & Us

Them & Us

11/10/17

NHS

NHS meltdown - fight the Tory cuts

11/10/17

IMF

IMF helps cause inequality it slams

4/10/17

NHS

Tories wreck our NHS

triangleMore News and socialist analysis articles...


Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party

triangle19 Oct Arriva North West bus drivers strike over pay

triangle18 Oct Russia, October 1917: When workers took power

triangle18 Oct Tories torn - bin them now

triangle18 Oct Royal Mail bosses block strike - back postal workers

triangle18 Oct Balloting members on the pay cap

triangle13 Oct The end of the Tories?

triangle11 Oct Nasty party imploding...drive out the Tories

More ...

triangle21 Oct Birmingham: NSSN Solidarity Forum

triangle23 Oct Chesterfield Socialist Party: The continuing struggle for abortion rights

triangle24 Oct Liverpool Socialist Party: The October Russian Revolution 100 years ago to the day

triangle25 Oct Salford Socialist Party: The October 1917 Russian revolution

More ...

Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube

Archive

Archives:

October 2017

September 2017

August 2017

July 2017

June 2017

May 2017

April 2017

March 2017

February 2017

January 2017

2016

2015

2014

2013

2012

2011

2010

2009

2008

2007

2006

2005

2004

2003

2002

2001

2000

1999

Legal

SP RSS feed RSS

Platform setting: = No platform choice

V2