Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/1137/32621

From The Socialist newspaper, 9 June 2021

If unions give a lead, workers are fully prepared to fight and win victories

Reading, 26.5.21: Standing with the #Sparks blockading #AWE in fight against de-skilling #No2ESO, photo RW

Reading, 26.5.21: Standing with the #Sparks blockading #AWE in fight against de-skilling #No2ESO, photo RW   (Click to enlarge)

Rob Williams, Socialist Party workplace and trade union organiser

A year ago, the trade unions faced an historic crisis. Almost across the board, the union leaderships collapsed into national unity with the Tory government and the employers. Their very independence was called into question as strikes were suspended and disputes called off. Added to this, in the midst of lockdown, union offices were closed down. For a period, the activity of the union structures went into cold storage.

Yet over a year later, a very different position has opened up. We have seen prolonged strike action from British Gas to Manchester buses. From big companies to small employers. At root, the idea that there is common interest between the bosses and workers has been smashed by a brutal offensive by the employers, using vicious methods such as 'fire and rehire', backed by a growing trend of victimising union reps.

However, as last summer moved into autumn, it became clear that big business was intent on going on the attack. In sectors such as the airlines, with reduced custom, the likes of BA were primed to seek an advantage in rolling out stored-up attacks on workers' pay and conditions. The weapon of choice was fire and rehire - reducing workers' incomes by effectively ripping up existing contracts and imposing new ones.

At least 25 employers have attacked workers through fire and rehire. The most vicious example was in British Gas. Where, after 43 days of strike action by GMB members, the hundreds of workers who refused to sign new contracts which cut wages by up to 15,000 were sacked, their blue vans picked up by car transporters.

Just in the last few days, coffee maker Jacobs Douwe Egberts has issued dismissal notices to Unite members in Banbury, striking against pay cuts of up to 12,000 a year (see page 6). And Homes England is now threatening to resort to fire and rehire to secure pay cuts.

Outrageously, among the first employers to use fire and rehire was the Labour council of Tower Hamlets, forcing Unison members to take action last summer. The blizzard of Starmerite suspensions and expulsions, that included Jeremy Corbyn and now Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett, left these cutting Labour councillors untouched.

But this employers' offensive hasn't cowed workers. If anything it has provoked action. At first, some unions appeared satisfied to negotiate reductions in wages to avoid the worst of the attacks, and there is still a danger of this.

But, increasingly, fire and rehire has been met with resistance and sustained strike action - 43 days in British Gas and 85 by Unite members at Go North West buses in Manchester. There has been a clear move away from isolated one-day stoppages to intense action, many being indefinite strikes.

It is clear to workers that such vicious methods can only be defeated through serious action, increasingly of an all-out, indefinite character. In addition, the very anti-union laws brought in by the Tories in the last few years are a factor in unions moving quickly to intensive action.

These include timing out disputes after six months, forcing a reballot and making it difficult to win a strike vote in the first place, especially the undemocratic 50% voting threshold for a reballot, that would have seen hardly a councillor elected last month.

However, what has been missing is coordination across the unions against the employers' attacks, especially fire and rehire. This was undoubtedly a factor in British Gas where the GMB, with just a third of the workforce and one of four unions, was left to fight alone. While it is true that the union officers made some mistakes, this isolation did put them in a weaker position than if a united front had been put together. On the very day the GMB announced the first strikes, Unison posted on its website that it had accepted the company's 'deal'. Nevertheless, the workers fought on tenaciously.

There are never any guarantees of victories. Even with the maximum support and determined action there can be setbacks. The heroic, mainly young, Goodlord workers in London have been brutally sacked despite indefinite strike action (see page 7). But at least when a fight has been put up it builds workers' confidence and sends a clear message to management: if you attack us we will fight back. Usually, more is won than if no fight had been put up.

But important victories have been won against fire and rehire and other management attacks. The Manchester bus workers forced back Go North West. To supplement their 12 weeks of indefinite action, the Unite organising and leverage department, under executive officer Sharon Graham, called out 'left' Labour mayor Andy Burnham who, while supporting the workers in name, was refusing to act against the bus company.

In London, Metroline bus drivers stopped remote sign-on through the threat of action. Thurrock binworkers defeated the Tory council's attack on their pay and conditions after six weeks of action. In Leicester, striking workers at SPS forced back the company's attacks.

Similarly, the vicious wave of union victimisation, which has often accompanied these attacks on workforces, has been met with resistance, with some victories. A year before the Manchester bus strike, Unite rep Colin Hayden was targeted, but the union and its members defeated this attack. They knew that it was intended to soften up the whole workforce and, predictably, within months fire and rehire was threatened. But the successful defence of Colin was a crucial factor in keeping the union intact for the general fight that was to come.

The NEU has won a number of victories against the dismissal of union reps as employers look to avenge the defeat of Boris Johnson's planned unsafe early school return at the start of the year.

We have also seen the tenacious fight of the construction electricians against a new attempt at deskilling by the likes of NG Bailey and Balfour Beatty. A decade after they tried to attack wages through BESNA, they now see deskilling through ESO as another route to cutting pay and boosting their profits. As then, this has been met by the direct action of protests and stoppages, forcing the bosses to the negotiating table.

All these disputes are a sign of the mood developing below the surface. The brutal challenges of Covid to lives and livelihoods have resulted in workers taking determined action and seeing the importance of being organised. For the 4th successive year, union membership has increased.

While the official structures of unions stalled last spring, workers took unofficial action to ensure workplace safety. The fights against the employers' attacks are still at an early stage, as many of the bosses, and Johnson's Tory government, bide their time to unleash their full offensive. But the disputes so far show that if the unions give a lead, workers are fully prepared to fight and win victories.

2021 NSSN conference via zoom

Donate to the Socialist Party

Finance appeal

The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

The government has now ripped up its 'austerity' mantra and turned to policies that not long ago were denounced as socialist. But after the corona crisis, it will try to make the working class pay for it, by trying to claw back what has been given.

  • The Socialist Party's material is more vital than ever, so we can continue to report from workers who are fighting for better health and safety measures, against layoffs, for adequate staffing levels, etc.
  • When the health crisis subsides, we must be ready for the stormy events ahead and the need to arm workers' movements with a socialist programme - one which puts the health and needs of humanity before the profits of a few.
Inevitably, during the crisis we have not been able to sell the Socialist and raise funds in the ways we normally would.
We therefore urgently appeal to all our viewers to donate to our Fighting Fund.

Please donate here.

All payments are made through a secure server.

My donation

 

Your message: 

 


In The Socialist 9 June 2021:


News

G7 tax deal won't challenge corporate power

Dea-John Reid murder: Jobs, homes and services, not racism

Tory school catch-up plan: Fight for the funding our schools and colleges need

Post-Brexit trade deals: Workers' mobilisation needed to stop corporate extortion

G7 green hypocrisy

New book - coming soon: The Struggle for World Socialism

G7 Can't solve poverty, Covid and climate change - join the struggle for Socialism


What we think

Tory splits and infighting growing


NHS

'Let's fight to win on NHS pay and funding'

We're building for 3 July NHS protests


Workplace news

Goodlord striker speaks out: How we unionised and fought the bosses

Revolt against 'social partnership' at Wales Trades Union Congress 2021

Douwe Egberts workers strike against pay cuts of up to 12,000 a year

London workers prepare to fight Khan's transport cuts

If unions give a lead, workers are fully prepared to fight and win victories

Fight for a socialist leadership in PCS, build a fighting, democratic union!

Workplace news in brief


Lessons from history

The 1971 Upper Clyde Shipbuilders occupation and work-in


Campaigns news

Cladding safety: Protests demand developers and government pay

"Rights are won not given" - London refugee wins housing debt campaign

Hundreds march to scrap Silvertown Tunnel project

Shame on Clarion - another exploitative landlord


Israel/Palestine

Palestinian self-determination - is the solution one state or two?


Readers' opinion

TV review: Mrs Thatcher vs the miners

Readers' Opinion


 

Home   |   The Socialist 9 June 2021   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate   |   Audio  |   PDF  |   ebook






Related links:

Unions:

triangleNeonatal leave introduced: Unions must fight for extensions and full pay

triangleSave our NHS from the Tories

triangleOrganise for 3 July pay protests

triangleStudents and unions must resist misnamed 'free speech' bill

triangleNHS: Scottish vote shows unions must fight for 15%

Workers:

triangleSparks win victory!

triangleBooks that inspired me: The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists

triangleRedbridge school walkout over victimised union rep

triangleLeicester University workers strike against redundancies

Union:

triangleUnite general secretary contest: Vote for Sharon Graham

triangleConference 2021: Divide between union leaders and rank-and-file exposed

triangleLeft candidate needed for Unite general secretary election

Fire:

triangleEngineers in fourth week of strike action

triangleCladding safety: Protests took place around the country on 5 June highlighting the cladding crisis

News and socialist analysis

News and socialist analysis

18/6/21

Unite

Unite general secretary contest: Vote for Sharon Graham

16/6/21

Women

Women's health matters

16/6/21

Tamil

Tamil Solidarity asylum victory

16/6/21

Wales

Beth Roper inquest: Train company failures ignored

16/6/21

Vaccine

Make vaccine technology public, nationalise big-pharma

16/6/21

Babies

Neonatal leave introduced: Unions must fight for extensions and full pay

9/6/21

Schools

Fight for the funding our schools and colleges need

9/6/21

Unite

Left candidate needed for Unite general secretary election

9/6/21

Unions

If unions give a lead, workers are fully prepared to fight and win victories

9/6/21

Tory party

Tory splits and infighting growing

9/6/21

Climate change

G7 Can't solve poverty, Covid and climate change - join the struggle for Socialism

9/6/21

Tax

G7 tax deal won't challenge corporate power

9/6/21

Racism

Dea-John Reid murder: Jobs, homes and services, not racism

8/6/21

NHS

'Let's fight to win on NHS pay and funding'

2/6/21

Covid

Capitalism's Covid failings

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

LATEST POSTS

CONTACT US

Phone our national office on 020 8988 8777

Email: [email protected]

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

Regional Socialist Party organisers:

Eastern: 079 8202 1969

East Mids: 077 3797 8057

London: 075 4018 9052

North East: 078 4114 4890

North West 079 5437 6096

South West: 077 5979 6478

Southern: 078 3368 1910

Wales: 079 3539 1947

West Mids: 024 7655 5620

Yorkshire: 078 0983 9793

ABOUT US

ARCHIVE

Alphabetical listing


June 2021

May 2021

April 2021

March 2021

February 2021

January 2021

2020

2019

2018

2017

2016

2015

2014

2013

2012

2011

2010

2009

2008

2007

2006

2005

2004

2003

2002

2001

2000

1999