Editorial of the Socialist
Kill the Bill
Unions must capitalise on mass anger at austerity and anti-union laws
It appears that the Tory’s Trade Union Bill will be having its third and final reading on 10 November. Cameron and Co are rushing this anti-union legislation through parliament ahead of the next wave of vicious cuts that would see £12 billion cut from welfare and a further £20 billion slashed from public services.
All the dismissals of union power and influence by the Tory media – unfortunately echoed by right-wing defeatist union leaders – are recognition of the huge potential power of the unions. But only if this power is mobilised now can this bill be stopped from becoming law.
The defeat of Osborne’s tax credit cuts in the House of Lords wasn’t because of well-meaning unelected peers. And, while welcome, it certainly isn’t an argument for the undemocratic second chamber. It is still a weapon in the hands of the capitalist establishment to block radical policies of a future left government.
But the Lords were prepared to turn over Cameron, even to the point of risking constitutional tensions because of the pressure that was building among workers, especially the low-paid. The emotional BBC Question Time attack on the government by a Tory voter from May’s general election was a sharp indicator of the fury that exists on this attack and seemingly never-ending austerity.
It is this same mood that is developing in the fantastic movement of junior doctors who are now balloting for industrial action. On BBC Breakfast, a visibly shaken Health Minister Jeremy Hunt explained away his fumbled reply to the interviewer by complaining that it was too early in the morning! It cannot be ruled out that the Tories could be forced into a retreat on this too.
With these shocks and dangers and the divisive EU referendum coming more into view on a daily basis, from the point of view of the Tories, in some respects the anti-union bill offers the chance to unite against a common enemy. But the unions must take encouragement from the Tory difficulties to mobilise the whole union movement right now.
The election of Jeremy Corbyn has undoubtedly given confidence to those fighting austerity. But too many of the union leaders don’t see the potential of this surge that can be capitalised on in the fight against the Trade Union Bill and the cuts. They still subscribe to the view that ‘unions are unpopular or irrelevant’. Yet all the evidence is to the contrary.
The public see the junior doctors as defenders of the NHS and contrast their struggle against long hours and pay cuts with the Tory lies over tax credits. Incredibly however, the Unison leaders missed the opportunity to mobilise their members to join the massive 20,000-strong junior doctors’ demonstration in London last month, which was organised semi-spontaneously by a group of young doctors.
Despite all the right-wing media propaganda, this year’s bus and tube strikes crippled the London transport network on four separate days. They had 60-70% approval ratings because, facing the relentless Tory austerity onslaught, the working class and big sections of the middle class want someone to fight back.
The anti-austerity demonstration on 20 June saw 200,000 people march through London to hear a platform organised by the People’s Assembly campaign. Yet the unions were the backbone of the organisation, financing and mobilisation of it. The TUC demonstration outside the Tory Party conference on 4 October was 80-100,000 strong.
Up the game
The unions have to urgently up their game over the next week, including coming in behind the TUCG demonstration outside parliament on 10 November by explicitly linking the cuts with the bill. The junior doctors are balloting while the law could be changed under their feet! They would be open to joining the struggle against the anti-union plans as would the students who marched through London six days before.
If the bill is passed into law, there must be an urgent discussion within the trade union movement on how to resist it. The Socialist Party would call for an emergency TUC Congress – opened up and widened to thousands of shop stewards and union reps.
Socialist Party members would raise the question of a 24-hour general strike to bring together the whole movement along with the millions suffering from the cuts. Public rallies, meetings and protests should then be called all over the country to actively organise a mass movement to oppose the cuts and defy the anti-union laws.