Nick Chaffey, Socialist Party Southern region secretary
Many strikes and protests are taking place in the run up to the general election.
On 18 May they will be joined by striking workers at the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) also fighting to defend their pensions, and RMT seafarers protesting in Poole over the exploitation of migrant labour on Condor ferries.
All these workers are fighting employers who have been given the green light by this Tory government and the European Union to break contractual pension agreements and domestic trade union rights. Truly, a system “rigged for the rich,” as Jeremy Corbyn declared at the launch of his election campaign.
BMW workers are furious that a company making record sales of the Mini and Rolls Royce, stacking up billions in profit, is now seeking to strip its workforce of pension entitlements by up to 20%. This is the first strike at Rolls Royce in living memory.
On the first day of the strike at Cowley over 1,400 turned up to picket lines. The first strike at Rolls Royce saw hundreds of workers mass at the front gates to ‘welcome’ BMW board members visiting from Germany.
At AWE, the guarantees given to trade unions when privatisation was driven through by the Tories are lying in shreds.
Private contractors are allowed to maximize their profits and shareholder dividends by stealing the pensions of workers of over 40 years’ service and the young workers who are starting on the job.
At Condor Ferries, using the EU Posted Workers Directive, migrant workers are employed under the terms of their country of origin, not Britain, and are paid under £3 an hour.
In every case, workers are forced to fight against a government-sponsored attack that gives the green light to employers to maximize their profits by attacking the pay, terms and conditions of workers.
These struggles are the tip of an iceberg of exploitation that has seen workers’ pay driven down by 20% on average under seven bleak years of Tory austerity. May and the Tories are also seeking to further restrict effective trade unionism with yet more draconian legislation.
In the face of continued attacks on pensions, Corbyn should make it clear that corporations have no free rein to reward shareholders while slashing the pensions of their workers.
Rather than facing a race to the bottom of ever lower wages and pensions, we should raise the alternative of socialist nationalisation and democratic planning. This can ensure production is for need, not profit, and workers receive decent wages and pensions.
Successive Tory governments have stood firmly on the side of the bosses. These strikes and protests show workers have no choice but to fightback. A mass trade union demonstration against Tory austerity could be decisive in deciding the outcome of the election.