THOUSANDS OF workers marched through Birmingham last Saturday in protest against the decimation of industry and jobs. Officially unemployment in the UK has reached 2.2 million - the highest rate since 1991 - and is expected to exceed 3 million by 2010.
Saturday's demo, called by the Unite trade union, could have been much bigger and more effective if the union had not taken a position of allowing the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders and Digby Jones, former CBI director-general and ex-New Labour minister, to prominently sponsor the event.
Workers need socialist policies to fight back against the devastation of the recession. While Digby Jones may support the subsidising of workers' wages by the government when lay-offs and short-time working take place, he is no friend of the labour movement. Jones, a life peer, earlier this year had called for half of all civil service jobs to be axed.
Jones admitted on TV before the march that there was little he would normally agree with Unite joint general secretary Tony Woodley about, but was supporting this one demand of subsidies.
But workers on the march were not just supporting short-time payments but were angry at the closures of factories and the devastation of manufacturing. They wanted to hear about how workers were fighting back but found little from the platform from workers who have actually had successful battles. Visteon workers did not have a representative on the platform and neither was victimised Unite convenor Rob Williams allowed to speak to the demo.
This was rectified somewhat by the National Shop Stewards Network meeting that took place after the march. Visteon convenors Kevin Nolan and Frank Jepson got rousing receptions for their members' example of how to fight back against ruthless bosses.
Rob Williams' appearance was cheered to the rafters. Rob explained he had been sacked for defending his members' interests when Linamar bosses wanted to introduce worse contracts and conditions. He could have kept his job if he had agreed with the bosses or taken a huge pay-off. He had refused both.
Urging support for his reinstatement, Rob called on the union to stop funding New Labour if he and others like him are allowed to be victimised and sacked at the drop of a hat.
The demonstration could have represented the beginning of a campaign to save jobs. But compared to the big demo a few years ago to try and save Rover in Birmingham, this was a lot smaller, yet workers are angry at feeling the effects of the recession they did not create. The responsibility to defend jobs and conditions rests on the shoulders of union leaders. That means launching a mass campaign to explain how socialist policies can defend jobs, instead of seeking to build alliances with bosses.
THE BIRMINGHAM march coincided with the European Trade Union Confederation's call for demonstrations against unemployment behind the slogan 'Put People First'. In the eurozone, well over 20 million workers (8.9%) are out of work.
Around Europe, 150,000 marched in Madrid, 100,000 in Berlin, 50,000 in Brussels and 30,000 in Prague. The ETUC leaders meekly called for "stronger regulation of the financial markets" and to "aim for green growth and green jobs". Many demonstrators had a different message: 'We are not prepared to pay for the bosses' crisis!'
"Socialism or barbarism!" read a banner of the DAF car workers. "United against capitalism" read an Audi workers' placard. "Let's refuse to pay for the capitalist crisis," was the message carried by the Brussels public transport workers. The francophone socialist trade union campaign slogan: "Capitalism is bad for your health," was very popular.