A tsunami of job cuts and austerity looms for workers. But instead of organising a militant response, the TUC are pleading with the Tories for a deal. In place of class collaboration, the trade union movement needs a socialist fightback.
Most people realise we are in a deep crisis which will have serious consequences for their lives, the lives of their families, and those of their children. The crisis is throwing up enormous challenges on all fronts as never before.
People are faced with the threat of losing their jobs, losing their homes, or facing massive cuts to their living standards.
The bosses are using the pandemic to launch brutal attacks on workers everywhere. Bosses at British Airways sacked 12,000 workers in a ‘fire and rehire’ policy, in order to introduce worse terms and conditions. The same was done in Tower Hamlets, where the entire local authority workforce was sacked and rehired. Likewise with many other employers.
Massive pay cuts are being imposed. This was the case for 4,000 workers at Heathrow airport. At the same time, the CEO of Heathrow, John Holland Kaye, pocketed pay and pensions worth nearly £2.6 million in 2019.
The idea that we are ‘all in it together’ is an absurd lie.
Boris Johnson’s government has rushed in, not to bail out workers, but to bail out the capitalist system, with no expense spared. This has sent government debt skyrocketing. But the Rishi Sunak, the Tory Chancellor, has said they will take “measures” to balance the books. As night follows day, such “measures” will mean attacks on the working class, who will be asked to pay for the crisis.
Johnson has now talked about “free enterprise” leading the recovery. What a joke! This crisis has revealed the complete bankruptcy of the so-called market economy, where private greed trumps workers’ health.
“Private enterprise” failed to deliver the needs of the people, but has filled the pockets of the super-rich. While the bosses slashed the wages of workers at Heathrow by nearly 25%, they creamed off £4 billion in dividends to shareholders.
During the pandemic, the world’s billionaires have accrued even greater and more obscene quantities of wealth, increasing their fortunes by over 27% in a matter of months. At the same time, millions are experiencing falling living standards, unemployment, and austerity.
The bosses are mercilessly using the prospect of mass unemployment to drive down wages and conditions. The move to ‘sack and rehire’ workers has become endemic. This is clearly the prelude to an all-out employers’ offensive against the working class in the coming period. It is a declaration of war, in which the trade union movement must face up to its responsibilities.
This is no time for ‘business as usual’, as many in the tops of the unions still believe. Workers at Heathrow are balloting for industrial action. The workers, of course, must be given every support. But many ‘Heathrows’ are taking place up and down the country. Instead of individual sections taking action on their own, the fightback must be generalised.
We must not live in the past. Unite the Union – which is regarded as on the left of the trade union movement – recently launched an MC2 education programme. This calls on members to adapt to the new labour environment, where “competition will be fierce”. This is supposedly to “meet the challenges” and to be “a step ahead of the labour market”. It talks of a “fair society” and the need to “join the revolution and take back control of your destiny”.
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Such a ‘practical’ approach is no solution to the current capitalist crisis, which is the deepest for 300 years. This is no ‘ordinary’ crisis.
In any case, the task of the trade unions is not to help workers compete among themselves in the labour market. On the contrary, we have to unite the working class to fight against the attacks of the capitalists and the crisis of their system.
Prepare for battle
Our task is not to ‘appeal’ to Boris Johnson to save us, as some have done. This will have as much impact as attempting to turn a man-eating tiger into a vegetarian. The only people who are going to save us are ourselves!
Rather than holding talks with Sunak and the Tory government, the TUC should be preparing a Council of War. Instead of doing everything possible to avoid struggle, it should act as a real fighting general staff of the labour and trade union movement. If they do not wish to lead a fight, they should stand aside in favour of those who are prepared to.
The Tories only want to ‘talk’ with the TUC so as to ensnare the unions in a so-called ‘national unity’, as if we are all in it together. They are like the spider who invites the fly into its parlour.
We must not be fooled by this. This path of ‘class collaboration’ is a road to disaster. It will simply demobilise workers and sow confusion, when a fighting lead is urgently required.
If ever there was a need for boldness, for a new, fighting class-approach, it is now. In such a dire situation, we make no apologies for posing things sharply. The union leaders have already made enough concessions over the years. It is time to call a halt to backsliding and capitulation.
As we know, weakness invites aggression.
The trade union movement was created to defend the working class. It is time we got off our knees. There was never a more urgent task today, as millions look to their trade unions for a lead!
The last time there was coordinated trade union action was over pensions in 2011. This showed the potential for mass struggle. Unfortunately, this potential was squandered after certain unions pulled out. We must make sure that such a sell-out does not happen again.
The trade unions need to draw up an ‘Action Programme’ that defends the working class, and exposes the crimes of the capitalist system. We must not go cap-in-hand to the bosses or the government with pleas to save us. Such pleas will only sow false illusions in our class enemies.
On the contrary, we must rely on our own strength to resolutely defend the working class. We must firmly reject calls for phoney ‘national unity’, or attempts to patch up the capitalist system that is responsible for all our ills.
We call on the TUC and trade union leaders to:
- Break off all talks with the CBI and Tory government, which are only used as cover for their attacks.
- Fight with all the resources of the trade union movement to defend the working class and prevent it from paying for this crisis. No wage cuts, cuts to terms and conditions, redundancies, or austerity.
- Fight all job cuts and redundancies, demanding safe work or full pay! No redundancies, but worksharing with no loss of pay!
- Where job cuts are threatened, demand the books are opened to workers’ inspection. Let us see what has been going on behind our backs; how the bosses cream off the profits.
- Instead of job losses, demand the introduction of a 30 hour work week – or less – with no loss of pay.
- Fight closures with militant action: occupations and demands for such firms to be nationalised under workers’ control. Plans for alternative production should be drawn up by workers in these industries, on the lines of the Lucas Plan.
- In the face of bosses’ attacks, campaign to establish workers’ committees in all workplaces, and to promote workers’ control. These should decide on all health and safety matters, and any issues of concern to workers.
- Generalise the struggle with support for solidarity action. If this means defying the anti-trade union laws, then so be it. An injury to one is an injury to all. We must translate words into deeds!
- Instead of being held to ransom by the banks, we demand they be brought into public ownership, to allow us to direct financial help where it is needed most.
- As opposed to the anarchy of capitalism, the trade unions must argue for a planned economy, where the resources of society are taken into public ownership and used for the benefit of all.
- No compensation to the fat cats, who have brought us to the edge of ruin.
- The best form of defence is attack! The TUC must counter the employers’ offensive by organising united trade union action, including a general strike when necessary. We must not allow trade unions or workers to be isolated and picked off one at a time. We need a common struggle under the motto ‘unity is strength’. We can march separately, but we must strike together!
The time has passed for palliatives. The crisis is too deep for half measures. The trade unions must put themselves at the head of this struggle. It is vital that the leadership be equal to the task.
Everything we have won in the past is now under threat. Upon the outcome of this struggle lies the fate of the labour movement – the fate of the working class.
Rather than ‘conciliators’ in the class struggle, the trade unions should form part of an alliance against capitalism, fighting for the socialist transformation of society.
In the past, many unions had inscribed in their rules the need for socialism, as did the Labour Party with its old Clause 4. In face of this dire crisis, the time has come to restore this fundamental aim.
On the basis of capitalism there is only horror without end. Under socialism, we have a world to win.