capitalist crisis deepens, more and more workers are coming under attack.
Vodafone has just announced huge lay-offs. There are plans to axe 1,000 jobs on
the railways. The sacking of 850 agency workers at the Cowley car plant in
Oxford is the latest in a string of redundancies. They received no redundancy
pay, no holiday pay and no sickness pay. All they were offered was their P45s
and a week’s wages. Wage freezes have also become common in the last period. Short-time
working has spread with Toyota closing its factory for four weeks.
is being imposed on the workers, as the trade union leadership is offering no
way out. What is questionable about the Toyota deal is how democratic that
decision was as there are no shop floor meetings in the plant or any genuine
Trade Union democracy. The only option the workers were given was: either
accept cuts in hours and wages or lose your job altogether. In such
circumstances what is required is for the trade union and Labour leaders to
offer a programme that can protect jobs and wages, and to be willing to take up
while in some industries the trade union leaders have managed to get such deals
accepted, in other sectors workers have reacted angrily with militant strike
action, such as the Lindsey Total oil refinery workers. Faced with unemployment
and a threat to their terms and conditions, construction workers at Lindsey
downed tools and walked off the site. They were met with solidarity action from
22 sites up and down the country, from power stations to refineries.
spontaneous strike was in defiance of the bosses, government and the state. It
was a magnificent unofficial strike in spite of being “illegal”, and with no
support from the trade union tops. It was illegal because there was no ballot,
because there was no forewarning, because there was mass picketing and because
there was solidarity action.
other period since the anti-Trade Union laws have been in place, these would have
been used against workers “breaking the law”. Instead the courts were not used,
but concessions were made. That is because the bosses correctly understood that
to use the courts would have enraged the workers even more and possibly led to
more disputes breaking out.
the media hype about ‘British jobs for British workers’, this was a complete
lie. It was an attempt to split the workers, which did not succeed. The strike
was about the protection of national terms and conditions, which the bosses were
attempting to undermine through contract labour.
deal reached does not mark the end of the dispute in an industry riddled with
casualisation. Already mass picketing has occurred outside the Staythorpe and
Isle of Grain power stations as the campaign is stepped up to secure the
a burning anger in the workplaces against the bosses’ attacks. Even members of
the Prison Officers’ Association have voted to reject management reorganisation
plans including pay, and look set to engage in industrial action. The scenes at
the BMW plant at Cowley were another graphic illustration of the real mood that
is developing. When the union convener announced the 850 sackings, he was
practically lynched. Workers were jumping up and demanding that the union
should act. “What the hell is the union for?” they shouted.
is mounting for the trade union leaders to act in defence of jobs and wages. In
September local authority workers were prepared to take up militant strike
action, but it was the leadership of Unison that pushed
for arbitration after allowing steam to be let off with one day strikes.
happened recently at the FIAT Tractor plant in Basildon is another example of
this. The bosses have imposed a wage freeze. The workforce was balloted through
the official trade union procedure, in a postal ballot where 90% participated
and 75% voted for strike action. Unfortunately the convenor and shop stewards
committee are prevaricating on the question.
have a clear example of a case where the mood among the mass of workers has
leapfrogged over that of those who are supposed to lead. If over a period of
time the trade union leaders fail to take up these burning issues, inevitably
at some stage workers will follow the example given by the Lindsey construction
workers and take unofficial action. Where structures of shop stewards’
networking are already in place, such as in the construction industry, this
will emerge more easily.
indicates that although the rapid onset of the
recession may have led to a temporary stunning and disorientation of some
sections of the working class, workers will soon begin to react to the attacks
by the bosses, as has been shown in the Construction sector (the first to be
hit and the first to fight back).
of what is to come was revealed recently in a police report, which said that as
a result of the economic crisis and the anger it creates, we could be facing a
“summer of rage”. The same report indicates that we could see riots like those
that erupted in 1981 and scenes similar to those during the Miners’ Strike of
1984-85. That is the real prospect before us.
internationally, workers have taken to the streets; not only in France, but
more recently a demonstration of 200,000 workers took place in Dublin. The
British workers will inevitably move in the same direction at some stage. Big
class battles are being prepared in Britain and elsewhere. In these struggles
workers will come to the conclusion that what is required is a renewal of the
trade union leadership to bring it into line with the mood of the rank and
file. And in the long run they will draw the conclusion that only through the
elimination of capitalism can their problems be resolved. The ideas of
socialism and Marxism will find a ready audience under these conditions.