Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page:

From The Socialist newspaper, 12 July 2002

What We Say

Summer Of Discontent

NEXT WEDNESDAY, 17 July could see the biggest industrial strike in Britain for more than 20 years. Low-paid council workers have voted to reject a 3% wage offer; up to one million are expected to take strike action for a 6% rise.

The media are talking about a "summer of discontent", comparing this strike with the "winter of discontent" of 1978/79, when public sector manual workers joined tanker drivers, lorry drivers, Ford workers and others in striking against the then Labour government's pay restraint.

Labour's right-wing, anti-working class policies of holding down wages at a time of high inflation and cutting public spending resulted in disillusionment with Labour amongst many sections of workers, paving the way for the coming to power of the Tories under Thatcher in the 1979 election.

Today, the number of workers taking action or preparing to move into struggle is increasing. Recently benefit workers, rail workers, college lecturers, teachers and local government workers have all taken strike action.

A ballot of Tube workers has delivered an overwhelming vote in favour of action over safety and privatisation, and firefighters could strike if their pay claim is not met.

But the number of days lost in strikes and the extent and scope of struggles is still far below that of 1979. Nevertheless, a united national strike of all council workers is extremely significant.

New Labour's pro-big business agenda of low pay, cuts and privatisation has fuelled a rising tide of anger and resentment, especially among public-sector workers, which is leading to a greater industrial militancy.

The election of Left leaders in unions such as the railworkers' union RMT and civil service union PCS, is a reflection of this growing unrest. These leaders have in turn been prepared to give a lead to benefit workers and rail workers in taking action.

Where workers have gone on strike union membership has increased and a new layer of activists, most new to struggle, many women, are beginning to come forward to take positions as stewards and union reps.

The strength of feeling amongst workers about low pay in particular, is forcing even those union leaders who are not on the Left to sanction national strike action.

However, it's important that this and other strikes, such as those over London Weighting by teachers and local authority workers, are not used by union leaders as a means of allowing workers to "let off steam" and left at that.

If employers do not meet the unions' demands for higher pay then the 17 July strike must be seen as just the beginning of an organised plan of strike action to force them to back down.

Time For Unions To Break With New Labour

WORKERS ARE also increasingly questioning why they should carry on funding a party which attacks their rights and sells their jobs and services to private companies.

The GMB, RMT and CWU unions have all decided to cut the amount of money they give to the Labour Party, while UNISON conference voted to censure the leadership for failing to report on a "root and branch" review of the union's political fund.

Feeling the pressure from below, union leaders are being forced to make some concessions on the unions' relationship with New Labour. However, they will strongly oppose any moves towards totally severing the link.

In the firefighters' union FBU for example, conference voted in 2001 for the executive to bring back rule changes to this year's conference which would allow the union to fund candidates other than Labour. Instead the executive reaffirmed affiliation to New Labour.

Andy Gilchrist, general secretary of the FBU, was able to exploit his militant stance on firefighters' pay to reverse the previous year's position. Moreover, those arguing in the FBU to loosen the links with Labour are still equivocal about whether they should make a clean break.

Even leaders on the Left such as Bob Crow of the RMT are resisting making a decisive break. Instead he advocated the union withdraw backing from one group of Labour MPs and sponsor a group of 'Left' MPs who agreed with the union's policies, including nationalisation.

Unfortunately this stance sows the illusion that the Labour Party can be transformed from a big business party back into a party which reflects workers' interests.

One important difference between 1978/79 and now is that the Labour Party was then at least open to democratic discussion and accountability and the unions were able to have some influence over policy.

At the Labour Party conference in 1978 for example, a supporter of Militant (forerunner of the Socialist Party) moved a resolution rejecting the Labour government's 5% pay restraint. This resolution was passed, breaking Labour's "social contract" with the unions and paving the way for the industrial struggles of the "winter of discontent".

Now democracy within the Labour Party has been effectively shut down and the unions' ability to influence policy curtailed. According to a report in The Guardian (8 July), New Labour are even considering breaking the national, organised participation of unions in the party by doing away with central trade union affiliation from political funds.

Cutting donations to the Labour Party, diverting money to 'Left' MPs or democratising the unions' political funds - all are steps forward but none go far enough. The unions need to make a clear break with New Labour and begin the task of building a new, mass party which can politically challenge New Labour's pro-big business and anti-working class policies.

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

In The Socialist 12 July 2002:

Strike Back Against Low Pay

Potters Bar inquiry: Bring Rail Bosses To Justice

Summer Of Discontent

Build The Fight Against Sectarianism

Another Dangerous New Mental Health Bill

Big Business Scandals - Don't Let Workers Pay The Price

How Capitalism Rips Off The Working Class

Aids pandemic: Pharmaceutical Giants Obstruct Progress


Home   |   The Socialist 12 July 2002   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate  

Related links:


triangleLocal paper reveals Labour candidate 'tried to defect to the Tories'

triangleLabour councillors could stop unsafe 'driver-only operation' tomorrow

triangleThe Socialist inbox

triangleFor a fighting, democratic Labour Party

triangleMay elections: a chance to fight attacks on health and social care


triangleTaking the anti-austerity message to the chancellor's back yard

triangleFor Whom the School Bell Tolls: Our kids or the Tories?

triangleNHS pay: Reject the Tories' divide and rule offer

triangleWorkplace news in brief


triangleGender pay gap figures show need for trade union action

triangleSouth West Socialist Party conference

triangleTo produce the Socialist we need a building - help us keep ours!


triangleUsdaw conference 2018: time for new era of fighting trade unionism

triangleMcStrike: ballot for strike action at six McDonald's stores

News and socialist analysis

News and socialist analysis



Enoch Powell's racist 'Rivers of Blood' rant 50 years on



For a fighting, democratic Labour Party


Them & Us

Them & Us



Billions for the bosses, benefit cuts for us



1,400 beds empty as patients lay in corridors: health unions must act now



Young people need homes



A socialist approach to Corbyn and a customs union


Child poverty

Child poverty to hit 5m by 2021 - strikes can stop the cuts


Equal pay

Gender pay gap figures show need for trade union action


Young people

Alienation and austerity behind London deaths - fight for socialism



Fight the Tory enemy


Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland: peace process on the brink



Right-wing Vote Leave campaign may have broken spending laws



Retail crunch: even giants not immune as 21,000 jobs disappear



End the housing crisis! We can't wait till 2022!

triangleMore News and socialist analysis articles...

Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party
Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube



Phone our national office on 020 8988 8777


Locate your nearest Socialist Party branch Text your name and postcode to 07761 818 206

Regional Socialist Party organisers:

Eastern: 0798 202 1969

East Mids: 0773 797 8057

London: 020 8988 8786

North East: 0784 114 4890

North West 07769 611 320

South East: 020 8988 8777

South West: 07759 796 478

Southern: 07833 681910

Wales: 07935 391 947

West Mids: 02476 555 620

Yorkshire: 0114 264 6551



Alphabetical listing

April 2018

March 2018

February 2018

January 2018