Posts Tagged ‘Trade Unions’
On Tuesday up to 60 people came to Ipswich Library Lecture room to the Suffolk People’s Assembly meeting, “Defend our Unions and Right to Resist Austerity.”
Speakers represented many different aspects of the Trade union and anti-cuts movement.
Dave Smith, a Founder Member of Blacklist Support Group, spoke on employers who witch-hunted activists out of jobs. Drawing on his experience in the building trade he outlined the long-standing campaign against the practice, and the recent actions against Crossrail and private contractors for public services.
Donna Guthrie of Joint Chair Black Activists Rising Against Cuts (BARAC) talked of their grass-roots campaigning in London’s East End. In Newham they had struck deep roots in the community, from many different ethnic backgrounds. They were campaigning against cuts in social housing, and issues such as the abuse of police powers.
Kevin Courtney, Deputy General Secretary, National Union of Teachers, said,
I’m Proud that NUT was in at the beginning of People’s Assembly and to share this platform today.
Why is the NUT is involved?
Well firstly because Teachers can’t separate themselves from the rest of working people. But perhaps more importantly because many of the children we teach see the worst effects of the austerity agenda. And it is the most vulnerable hit hardest.
Kevin described the attacks on the education system, spearheaded by Michael Gove.
How do we offer an alternative?
The Peoples Assembly shows the characteristics we need for the fight back – unity, broad base, looking for activity, something for everyone to do and contribute to And we do see very successful mobilisations all over the country – against cuts and closures in the health service, against the bedroom tax and evictions, against schools being forced into academy status.
Bill Bowring, the International Secretary of Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers, and Colchester based, congratulated Suffolk People’s Assembly on its work. He listed more reasons to offer an alternative to the Liberal-Conservative government’s policies. He said that reducing legal aid, a pillar of the post-war settlement, was part of the same weakening of social rights as attacks on the NHS and education.
Roy Humphries FBU Secretary Suffolk Fire Brigades Union, spoke on the government’s plans to reduce their pension rights and raise the age of retirement to an unsustainable limit.
He described how their battles were far from over and thanked members of the local labour movement, in particular Ipswich Trades Council, who had supported their protests.
Jim Kelly, Chair of London & Eastern Region Unite the Union, spoke on his union’s base in the private sector. He outlined the decline in collective bargaining agreements – the UK is now apparently on a par with only one country, Lithuania, for its low level of these agreements. Jim cited how UNITE had successfully fought back against employers and had, for example, won bonus for London Bus drivers, and had defended their members. UNITE were beginning to tackle the problems created by the anti-union Gateway port employers. What was needed were changes to the anti-trade union laws that prevented workers form organising and only a Labour government, he suggested, could do that.
On the Grangemouth dispute Jim pointed out that it was the local membership who had decided on an agreement with a ruthless employers.
In the discussion that followed a member of the SWP attacked the Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey.
Others saw the trade unions in a positive light, as reaching out to people to defend social rights and as advocates of a better society.
The People’s Assembly was mentioned as a way people draw campaigns and unions together. The previous week Suffolk activists had supported the Disabled People Against the Cuts (DPAC) protest against ATOS. A campaign extending our work on the Living Wage, will be launched for Fast-Food workers.
At the People’s Assembly National Conference (15 March) Suffolk will be presenting two motions. One opposes the government’s policies against migrant workers. The other calls for a national campaign against Workfare and for Charities, social sector and local authorities to have nothing to do with forced labour.
Ipswich Postal workers mentioned their fight to defend their conditions, and the effects of the closure of the local sorting office.
In the pub afterwards activists considered that the meeting had been a success and a help in our efforts to campaign for progressive politics.
Sisters, Brothers! There’s a place for you – in the People’s Assembly!
The Daily Mail ‘reports‘,
For those who recall the dark days of the 1970s and early 80s – when endless strikes and violent mass picketing brought British industry to the brink of ruin – the bully-boy tactics deployed by the Unite union during the recent Grangemouth dispute will have brought a chilling sense of deja vu.
Coordinated by Unite’s sinister ‘Leverage Unit’, mobs of protesters were unleashed to intimidate managers and their families at their homes.
It was a clear attempt to terrify the management into submission.
This despicable report was carried on Channel Four last night.
UNITE General Secretary, Len Len McCluskey was at least given a chance to reply to the tissue of lies.
If Tory bully boys threaten workers it’s fine by the Daily Mail.
If UNITE fights back then it’s “bully boys”.
There is a rumour that Mr Ratty is coming to Ipswich…..
• John Lister Keep NHS Public, author of Public Health and Private Profit
• David Ellesmere, Leader Ipswich Council – Labour Group
• Graham White, Suffolk County Secretary NUT
• Diana Holland, Assistant General Secretary UNITE the Union
Suffolk People’s Assembly say No to Austerity!
It’s Time to FIGHT BACK!
This meeting is designed to do just that. It will bring together people fighting against the cuts in jobs and living standards and follows on from the successful Peoples Assembly held in London in June, which attracted over 4,000 delegates, with 100 coming from all ov
At the SUFFOLK Peoples Assembly Public meeting at the Coop Hall Ipswich on September 17th, we will launch a “Living Wage Campaign“.
This will plan our public activities on November 5th, the date selected by the national Peoples Assembly for a day of action against Austerity across the country.
COME TO OUR MEETING ON SEPTEMBER 17th
Contact Suffolk People’s Assembly via Facebook.
Supported by UNITE the UNION, NUT, PCS, Ipswich Trades Council and many others…
“Austerity anger returns to eurozone streets as France’s far-left unions call a day of action, but not clear how many workers will take part.”
The Guardian newspaper, which so clearly marked out the unions involved, is running something close to a “live” feed on today’s protests in France.
In fact the demonstrations are backed by four union federations, CGT (left, formerly aligned closely to the Communists but now an independent ‘class struggle’ union), FO, (centrists, formerly aligned to traditional social democrats with a Trotskyist minority and Right-wing, Gaullist supporters) Solidaires (Close to the Noveau Parti anticapitaliste) , FSU (the main teaching union, with public sector workers, left-of-centre to left). - Le Monde.
The Front de gauche has called for support, as well a section of the (governing) Parti Socialiste.
The dispute is focused on the gradual lengthening of the contribution period to obtain a pension (increased to 43 years minimum , which will finally come into full effect in 2035.
The mobilisation has wider targets, the defence of ““Salaire, emploi, conditions de travail” – wages, jobs and working conditions.
The CGT has also brought in the wider issue of austerity,
La CGT, avec d’autres organisations syndicales en France et en Europe, considère qu’une rupture est nécessaire pour réorienter les politiques sociales et économiques, et renouer avec la croissance, la création de richesses pour une autre répartition.
The CGT, with other unions in France and Europe, considers that a clean break is needed to shift the present social and economic policies, and resume growth, and the creation of prosperity on the basis of a different distribution of wealth.
Map of French ‘far left’ demonstrations today.
The Appel Unitaire lists a broad range of representative left-wing individuals and groups backing the demonstrations. (1)
Nous ne pouvons accepter la paupérisation programmée des futurs retraité-es, la destruction des solidarités sociales, l’idéologie absurde du « travailler toujours plus » dans une société productiviste et inégalitaire. Cet engrenage favorise l’extrême droite et menace à terme la démocratie. Comme en Europe du Sud et dans bien d’autres pays du monde, la société doit se mettre en mouvement. Pour y contribuer nous organiserons partout des réunions, des initiatives de rue, des ateliers d’éducation populaire et nous soutiendrons les initiatives prises par le mouvement syndical. Nous voulons un système de retraites solidaire.
We cannot accept the programmed impoverishment of future pensioners, the destruction of social solidarity, and the absurd ideology of “working harder” in a consumerist and inegalitarian society. This backwards turn favours the far right and ultimately threatens democracy. As in Southern Europe and in many other countries worldwide, the social movements have to act. Our own contribution will come from organising meetings, initiatives streets, popular education workshops as widely as possible in support the initiatives of the trade union movement. We want a pension system based on social solidarity.
La mobilisation approuvée par 56% des Français says the CGT.
Of ‘match girls’ and general strikes. Mike Davis.
From the latest Chartist magazine.
125 years ago this July the Matchwomen’s gallant struggle and victory against all the odds led to the new union movement. Less than 100 years ago a massive strive wave swept Britain. Today many on the far left call for a general strike as the necessary response to austerity. Mike Davis investigates.
In July 1888, several hundred women walked out of an East London match factory – and changed the world. The strike was a reaction to management bullying and terrible conditions, and it should have failed. Bryant & May were powerful and prosperous, with friends in government.
The women were mere ‘factory girls’, and even worse, mostly Irish. But their courage, solidarity and refusal to back down impressed all who saw it. What they revealed about conditions inside the factory, including the horrors of the industrial disease ‘phossy jaw’, shamed Bryant & May, and their shareholders, many of whom were MPs and clergymen. In just two weeks, the women won better rates of pay and conditions, and the right to form the largest union of women in the country.
Their victory was remarkable, but until now, rarely acknowledged as the beginning of the modern trade union movement. Following the Matchwomen’s victory a wave of strikes, including the 1889 Great London Dock Strike, swept the nation. Multitudes of the most exploited workers formed new unions, sowing the seeds of the modern labour movement and Labour Party. In the throes of the Dock Strike, leader John Burns urged a mass meeting of tens of thousands to ‘stand shoulder to shoulder. Remember the Matchwomen, who won their fight and formed a union.’
Pre Great War Huge Strike Waves.
In 1911 through to 1913–100 years ago, British cities were in the grip of huge strike waves: railway workers, dockers, miners and other workers downed tools. Hundreds of thousands had been striking as part of an effort to protect living standards and jobs. The mood is described well in George Dangerfield’s The Strange Death of Liberal England. Strike days lost ran to many millions. The Liberal government of Lloyd George made some concessions.
By 1910 the Labour Party was having more success at winning seats in parliament. However the suffragettes were becoming more militant in the votes for women campaign. Tom Mann, a leader of the great dock strike returned to Britain from a long sojourn in Australia and South Africa, heavily influenced by the Industrial Workers of the World (the Wobblies). At the time syndicalism was being actively preached among the trade union ranks in Britain. The idea was for one big union. Mann and many of the union militants advocated strikes to make industries unprofitable to capitalism so that workers could ultimately take control of each industry. Rank and file workers were motivated by the need to gain higher wages. But the strike epidemic in Britain and Ireland involved millions. The miner’s strike of 1912 brought out more workers than any previous strike with almost one million striking. The preceding year a national rail strike had seen nearly 150,000 railwaymen stop work. In the Autumn of 1913 the city of Dublin was almost totally shut-down in strikes led by Jim Larkin and James Connolly. There had been violent clashes with police throughout this period.
Calls for a General Strike Today.
Today sections of the left constantly reiterate the call for a general strike in response to the problems resulting from the Coalition government’s austerity measures. But is this either a realistic or effective strategy for the trade union and Labour movement? At a rally last November in solidarity with Greek workers on their 20th general strike since recession five years ago, and facing massive cuts in jobs, incomes and pension resulting from the bailout terms, hecklers tried to drown out Frances O’Grady speaking at the rally with calls for a general strike.
It is TUC policy to support a one day general strike but as the now TUC general secretary pointed out informally after finishing her speech, she had recently returned from Southampton where Ford workers had faced a 450 jobs cut. The main unions had decided not to take strike action. What the story underlines is that many workers in the private sector have not yet reached a level of confidence and consciousness where the idea of a strike against job cuts seems an appropriate response. So to move from this situation to a general strike seems like a cloud cuckoo land approach.
Furthermore, there is confusion about whether the far left are calling for a 24 hour General Strike or an indefinite General Strike. On either option there is little discussion of what needs to be done to prepare for these eventualities. An indefinite General Strike presents a challenge to the state power…what groundwork is being proposed, what preparation for alternative supply to working class communities? What would be the alternative to state led strike breaking as happened in 1926? What work has been done in the military or amongst the police to back strikers? Simply to ask these questions is to expose the fatuousness behind the slogan.
But mostly Socialist Worker, The Socialist and umbrella groups like Unite the Resistance are talking of a 24 hour general strike. But this then is rather a Grand Old Duke of York scenario where workers are marched up the hill only to be brought down again. If there were a number of other strikes planned, then a 24 hour protest could be part of extending the action. However, currently only the civil servants union CPS and the teachers NUT are planning strike action, and on different issues.
Calling for the extension of such a protest could easily demoralize the hundreds of thousands/millions who might join when nothing changes or when a day’s pay is lost or when victimizations kick in. Charlie Kimber writing in Socialist Review (the SWP magazine) about the People’s Assembly on 22nd June acknowledges ‘union members are not a seething mass of discontent held back by a bunch of bureaucrats’. However, he spends much of the article castigating ‘the bureaucracy’ for failing to mount co-ordinated strike action, tantamount to a general strike, in the face of austerity.
General Strikes and Revolutionary Syndicalism.
The infatuation of many on the Leninist/Trotskyist left with the General Strike is strange. It has an interesting political lineage more akin to revolutionary syndicalism than either Marxism or Leninism.
Within the Marxist and anarchist tradition the idea has enjoyed mixed support. Essentially there are two kinds of general strike: the total cessation of work within a given national-state to achieve purely economic and political ends—higher wages, new labour laws and to end a war. This is a protest or reformist strike. The other type is a general strike as a prelude to social and economic revolution: The revolutionary mass strike. Champions of the latter include Rosa Luxemburg and George Sorel (who was also a supporter of Mussolini).
Frederick Engels found the general strike irrelevant to revolution and a prime example of ‘false consciousness.’ He wrote precipitously against the idea of a general strike to extend the 1889 dock strike viewing it as a ‘mindless gesture of despair’. Lenin and Trotsky argued that without a deep rooted revolutionary party to lead the masses beyond the general strike the danger was of defeat and demoralization. Britain has never seen anything resembling a revolutionary party with deep roots in the labour movement. The high point of the Stalinist Communist Party in its 1930s was the nearest Britain came, when membership topped 10,000. Although it talked revolution, this was not a serious proposition. Interestingly the CP dominated Minority Movement and the National Unemployed Worker’s Movement of the 1930s mobilized many thousands for jobs or full pay but has only pale reflections on the left today.
Weakness of the Left and the Unions.
The fixation of much of the left on the issue of a general strike is a sign of weakness. The TUC has adopted the position of support for a 24 four hour general strike at its Congress, but without widespread industrial action at the grass roots, nor with individual unions calling for such action ,this is simply hot air. The concept of a general strike has had a chequered history on the left. The famous 9-day British General Strike of 1926 was defeated and led to demoralization, widespread victimization and pay cuts throughout the labour movement. Of course, that is not a reason in itself to argue against a general strike. But it must give the left pause for thought.
In the British context the likely result of a 24 hour stoppage would be many workers asking: ‘so what?’ The Duke of York syndrome is ever-present. The government would face the action down. The media would rant against ‘mindless militants’ or point out the limited number who participated compared to the rest who continued to work.
Unite the Union are calling for action on 29th September to coincide with the Tory conference in Manchester. If newly re-elected general secretary Len Mcluskey and co are capable of pulling out significant numbers on that day then it is realistic to call on other unions to take action. But there must be a specific focus: to withdraw the Bedroom Tax or for work or full pay for the unemployed or halting Royal Mail privatisation. If the focus is on a general ‘no to austerity’ there will be no obvious victory to gain.
But the general point is that the British left must begin to think more creatively about different forms of action: occupations, short-time working and walk-outs, working to rule, co-ordinated actions with service users. It must also pay more attention to issues of workplace democracy.
Today much of the leading action would be taken by public service unions who do not have the bargaining power (in terms of hitting profits) and leverage of traditional industrial unions. There is also the issue of gaining support from service users dependent on the schools, health, cleaning, benefit or other services. In addition are the legal requirements of notice and winning majorities in ballots. Post Office workers seeking to halt privatization of Royal Mail are candidates to take the lead here. The preparatory process needs to start now. That would be the best way of remembering and celebrating the heroic action of the match girls in— securing trade union rights.
Mike Davis’s article makes a number of important points.
Calls for a General Strike are widespread on the left, including the left in the trade unions. But what are they for? And what kind of effective protest, with potential gains for the labour movement, would one be?
If we are building a broad movement against austerity, notably through the People’s Assembly, what place does strike action have in the protests? What are the goals of such an action? What does it mean?
Mike says there are two main types of general strike, “the total cessation of work within a given national-state to achieve purely economic and political ends—higher wages, new labour laws and to end a war. This is a protest or reformist strike. The other type is a general strike as a prelude to social and economic revolution: The revolutionary mass strike.”
The National Shop Stewards Network (linked to the Socialist Party and with some serious union presence) indicates its reasons during its 2013 Conference, here,
In moving the action plan, Rob Williams said it was a scandal that almost 12 months on from the TUC congress voting for the Prison Officers Association (POA) motion calling on the TUC to consider the practicalities of a General Strike, precious little action in that direction had occurred. In his speech Rob made clear that the NSSN supports all tactics in the struggle but the NSSN was unapologetic in its view that mass strike action led by the trade unions must be central in defeating the austerity drive of the government and the employers. In this way the mass organisations of the workers movement could draw behind them all of those whose lives have been ripped apart by cuts. In Brazil and Turkey the entry of ordinary people into struggle had shifted society to the left in those countries. This was a glimpse, he said, of the effect a 24 hour General strike could have in this country. Working people would feel their collective power and have their sights risen to what is possible when a mass movement confronts an intransigent government.
The accuracy of this claim about Turkey aside (few would agree that Edogan has shifted anywhere but rightwards) , would a British General strike really make people “feel their collective power’?
Many trade union activists, with experience of strikes in the last few years (teachers’ unions, PCS and others), feel that they have yet to achieve their goals. Mike states that ” In the British context the likely result of a 24 hour stoppage would be many workers asking: ‘so what?’ The Duke of York syndrome is ever-present. The government would face the action down. The media would rant against ‘mindless militants’ or point out the limited number who participated compared to the rest who continued to work.” This comment will find a ready echo in many quarters.
The SWP-led Unite the Resistance recently leafleted the People’s Assembly. This read,
….we also need strikes to defend services, jobs, pay and pensions. On 30 November 2011 2.5 million workers took strike action to defend pensions. It showed the potential power that the unions have to derail the Tories. But the chance to break the Con-Dem coalition was wasted. Since then the TUC has consulted members on the “practicalities” of a general strike. This call was backed by the TUC congress and has been endorsed by trade union leaders like the PCS’s Mark Serwotka and Unite’s Len McCluskey. We urgently need the talk about strikes to be turned into action.
This, like the Unite the Resistance’s other statements, simply talks of a General Strike as a way of moving forward. They see their own role as crucial.
As they announced last year, “Unite the Resistance is important because it is about coordinating people across the unions for a plan going forward. We have to take action now.”
So, at the moment the General Strike is not valued for its potential in producing policy changes, the protest or reformist strike. It is even less likely to be the prelude to revolutionary uprising. It is promoted because it will help build a confident ‘movement’ (No doubt in the SWP’s case one that would enhance their own role).
Not everybody takes the claims of what Mike calls the “far left” and its ability to create such a social force very seriously.
To take one example (many many others could cited).
A SWP protest on the Bedroom Tax in Ipswich was recently organised outside a Council meeting,
Unfortunately they got the date of the meeting wrong.
A handful of them shouting slogans to the local pigeons was the result.
More seriously the union membership in the public sector, the centre of any General Strike in the UK, does not have, as the article says, strong “bargaining power.”
It is widely reported that there is simply not the “feel” or the “buzz” around calls for action on this scale.
A Day of Protest that may include strike action is nevertheless needed.
Masses of people are sick to death of austerity and the transfer of public services to what are essentially groups of organised thieves – as the recent G4S and SERCO scandals have shown.
No labour movement can stand aside from this.
This is what is now proposed,
The People’s Assembly calls for:
- 29 Sep: Mass protest at the Tory Party conference, Manchester
- 5 Nov: Day of civil disobedience, everywhere
That is necessary.
That is – we hope – popular.
That is do-able.
But do we need a modern ‘myth’ of the General Strike?
For Sorel such myths (in his use of the term) were a projection of the future (the undefinable hope of a new world) into the present. They help form the nexus of intentions behind why people act in a revolutionary way.
There is little evidence of the General Strike motivating more than a tiny minority here.
Georges Sorel (who died in any case in 1922) was not an admirer of Mussolini. This is a myth in a more traditional sense, one developed by the Italian Fascist government on the basis of a distorted letter. See Page 233 L’illusion du politique: Georges Sorel et le debat intellectuel 1900. Shlomo Sand.1985. Sorel, by contrast, did admire Lenin.