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Union Struggles - The Task Ahead
NEW LABOUR feared they were in for a hot autumn, as the tolerance of working-class people had been stretched to breaking point.
Union leaders, normally anxious to avoid upsetting New Labour, were lining up to take pot shots at Blair's government because of the huge swell of anger building up in the ranks of the unions and in the workplaces.
Throughout the public sector, but also in many private-sector workplaces, ballots and strike action are an increasing part of everyday working life.
Even right-wing Blairite trade union leaders, like Jack Dromey of the TGWU, were compelled to reflect this anger and distance themselves from New Labour. Anything less at present would see some more of the right-wing union leaders go the way of Ken Jackson of Amicus and Barry Reamsbottom of the PCS, swept aside by members fed up of their years of cosying up to the fat cats and New Labour government.
But it seems this new found assertiveness from some union leaders, while an improvement on their previously prostrate position before the Blair government, will only go so far at present. Their acceptance of a proposed ACAS deal in the local government strike for example, has potentially squandered the growing mood and support there was to take on the government over low pay and has let the Blair government off the hook. (see also page 6)
Activists in local government unions must now campaign for a rejection of the offer in the branch consultations and put the pressure on the leadership to settle for nothing less than the full 6% claim and for strikes to be resumed at the end of September.
The rest of the new union leaders will also be put to the test very soon. A whole wave of strike action is either already in place or planned in the fire service, on the railways, the underground, among postal workers and college lecturers.
The task before Left activists in the unions now is to push the union leaders to generalise this action and bring together the various struggles through a co-ordinated one-day strike action over pay claims - 1 October, the day when Blair makes his Labour conference speech, is being mooted as one possibility.
This needs to go hand in hand with organising a national public-sector demo against New Labour's privatisation mania, on a weekend for as may workers as possible to participate in.
Beyond that a one-day, public-sector strike, which could tap the growing anger against the government, needs to be prepared for.
If this was carried through then it would force New Labour and the bosses to step back, at least temporarily, from their generalised attacks on working-class conditions and living standards; attacks which the bosses are likely to intensify if there is no organised opposition, especially with the US economy seemingly entering a double-dip recession.
Transform the unions
IN UNIONS such as PCS, RMT and Amicus, there is a new generation of left-wing leaders at the top who have a right-wing executive and trade union officialdom underneath, who will do everything possible to try and undermine any effective action to defend members' interests.
There is an urgent need in all unions to rebuild the Broad Left organisations, making them open and democratic in some cases, as a first step to turning the unions into democratic, fighting bodies.
The Left leaders have to capture the mood that is developing and make a clear call for revitalising the trade union movement. There also needs to be a linking together of the best of the Left leaders and activists in the unions to generalise the struggles and raise the consciousness of working-class people about struggling for a new socialist society.
The Left trade union leaders say they are socialists and some were explicitly elected as such. They now need to immediately campaign for a transformation of the trade unions from top to bottom and to build a new mass party of the working class to defend and consolidate any gains made in the day-to-day struggles of the working class.
Capitalism In Crisis
IN JUNE manufacturing output in Britain registered its biggest fall for 23 years. The markets were expecting a decline of 0.8% - in fact production fell by 5.3%, 8.3% down on the previous year.
Commentators are trying to put a gloss on the figures by saying that they are "distorted" by the Jubilee and World Cup. Even if this were true, it doesn't alter the fact that manufacturing industry has been in recession for six consecutive quarters and 10,000 manufacturing jobs are being lost every month.
The service sector, which accounts for two-thirds of economic growth and four fifths of jobs, has been keeping the economy afloat. But for how much longer? Service sector growth slowed in July for the third month running.
Retailers have admitted that the "boom" in consumer spending is over. And now there are fears that falls on the stock markets and the slowing down in the housing market will knock consumer spending even further.
Meanwhile the US economic recovery is looking increasingly shaky. Last year's recession, which some economists tried to say wasn't even a recession at all, was in fact much worse than expected. Growth in 2001 was only 0.3% instead of 1.2%.
The IMF has accused the US of making "optimistic" economic forecasts and damaging global trade, and is about to slash its own forecasts for future growth.
A double-dip recession, where the US economy falls back into recession after a short recovery, is now a very real prospect.
Corporate scandals and declining share prices could seriously undermine consumer spending and investment, raising the possibility of a more severe economic downturn with devastating effects on the jobs and conditions of workers in the US and internationally.
Recently, the Financial Times set up a new section of its website entitled "Capitalism in crisis". This sums up the lack of confidence that the capitalists themselves now have in their own system.
At the same time, workers are growing more confident about fighting for their rights, with strike action on the increase in Britain and elsewhere. In the course of those struggles, many will come to see the need to challenge the capitalist system itself.
In The Socialist 9 August 2002: