The Real Fight is Yet to Come

Over the last year, the working class in the UK has been engaged in the largest strike wave in decades. There have been struggles on the railways, in hospitals, in schools and universities, at various bus companies around the country, as well as on oil rigs and refineries, among firefighters, workers in Amazon warehouses, and other sectors. Many of these strikes have been about pay, which has been stagnant for most since the financial crash of 2007/8. Since Covid and then the war in Ukraine, inflation has meant effective pay cuts for most workers. Among other grievances however, are concerns about reduced staffing, changes to shifts and under-investment in services – in short, worsening conditions for both workers and service users, whether they are passengers on the railways, school or university students, or patients in hospital.

This strike wave culminated on 1 February when workers – primarily in transport, education and healthcare – walked out in a day of action that saw more than half a million on strike. But by turning the day of action into the highpoint (read endpoint) the unions have consolidated their role of limiting its impact through separation and isolation. Instead of gathering workers to fight together in a class-wide movement, the unions even split workers in the same workplace from fighting together.

Different Sectors, Same Struggle!

In the schools, the NEU and Unison have been at loggerheads. Unison (which traditionally organises support staff, but not teachers) brought a grievance last year against the NEU (a new union formed by amalgamating the NUT and ATL) for breaching agreements on which unions are recognised as negotiating for different grades of staff. The TUC has backed Unison in this action. On the railways, unions and management have combined to split the workforce and the disputes. The unions have settled with National Rail, and the RMT has announced the suspension of actions on London Underground, but strikes on the local operating companies continue; this means that some workers are continuing one- or two-day actions while others return to work. TSSA, ASLEF and the RMT have not acted in concert, but instead each worked to bring the strikes under control. In hospitals, nurses, junior doctors, ambulance staff and even consultants were threatening strike action and staged some one-day strikes. But when the RCN decided that nurses should return to work, and the ambulance workers also stopped their actions, the strike movement – and any moves towards unifying the strikes – faded away. The junior doctors are still in dispute but most of their fellow workers have gone back to work.

There have been a few success stories. In Birmingham, there was an all-out strike by bus workers that secured an inflation-beating deal in four days. This success was partly owed to the workers being in a strong position – there is a general shortage of staff in transportation at the moment – but also to the unity and militancy of the workers. There was almost total support for the strike and workers were able to demonstrate that they were serious about the action – not a one-day strike but a total stoppage of normal services until the management folded. But stories such as this are few and far between. Most of the strikes, controlled by the various union bureaucracies, have limped on to unsatisfactory conclusions. Below-inflation pay ‘rises’ and almost no safety or staffing concerns addressed mean a deterioration in all our living standards. At the same time the bosses are pocketing millions as we are forced to pay the consequences of their crisis-ridden system.

The Bosses’ Offensive is Gathering Momentum

The strikes of the last year have only emboldened the ruling class. They have rushed to introduce new laws that outlaw industrial action in key sectors. And with record numbers now at food banks and more people pushed into absolute poverty they are now trying to blame inflation on us! When we try to fight back we are told we’ll only make inflation worse. At the same time, no one really expects to win much (hence no pressure on the unions who can call off strikes without creating massive anger). Asking for crumbs is asking for more penury – the solution has to be to put an end to the profits system.

It is only a matter of time before the world capitalist economy suffers another financial crash. The knock-on effects of the bankruptcy of China's two biggest property companies are already being felt internationally. Like in 2007/8 we wage workers are going to find ourselves in another ball game and we'll have to stand together and fight as one, regardless of union allegiances. Even now we can challenge the attacks on living and working conditions by doing more than holding a union banner. The more workers can see beyond their own personal predicament or workplace struggle, the more we are likely to succeed. An organisation advocating revolution to the working class is a vital part of that struggle. If you agree, we urge you to join us in working towards a new society where human well-being, not profit, is the motive force.

The above article is taken from the current edition (No. 64) of Aurora, bulletin of the Communist Workers’ Organisation.

Monday, August 28, 2023

Aurora (en)

Aurora is the broadsheet of the ICT for the interventions amongst the working class. It is published and distributed in several countries and languages. So far it has been distributed in UK, France, Italy, Canada, USA, Colombia.