This year’s Durham Miners’ Gala – one of the biggest in recent memory, with 200,000 attendees – and the Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Festival both saw huge attendances. There was a mood of defiance at both events among rank and file unionists and workers.
This is not a surprise, given that these come at a time when the trade union movement as a whole is finding its feet.
Yesterday afternoon, for example, the CWU announced that more than 115,000 Royal Mail workers will be on strike, following an overwhelming vote of 97.6% in favor of the action, out of a participation rate of 77%.
Similarly, the RMT is expected to bring out 40,000 followers on July 27, August 18 and August 20.
Therefore, these traditional gatherings of the labor movement, in addition to paying homage to past struggles, looked firmly to the future as class struggles approached.
There is a growing recognition in the labor movement that “the working class is back”; and, in the words of RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch, that “we refuse to be poorer”.
“We are back. The working class is back. We refuse to be soft, we refuse to be humble and we refuse to be poorer.” RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch at #DurhamMinersGala…@ChroniqueLive #photography #MickLynch #Solidarity #photojournalism #Durham https://t.co/jidxqseZSd pic.twitter.com/s3S4OwAC91
—Craig Connor (@ConnorReachPLC) July 9, 2022
This has not gone unnoticed by the ruling class. While the Conservative leadership candidates are torn over taxes and toilets, there is one thing that unites them all: their anti-worker agenda.
In an attempt to nip this growing wave of strikes in the bud, the government adopted an employers’ charter on 11 July which effectively legalizes the use of agency workers as scabs. This is deliberately designed to weaken the effectiveness of strike action, especially in important sectors such as transport.
Such an attack on the right to strike is not a surprise. Indeed, expect more. But whether these laws will be upheld or broken is up to union leaders.
According to Unite General Secretary Sharon Graham, speaking in an interview with the the morning star at the Durham Miners’ Gala, “brains as well as brawn” are needed. We agree.
Using brains as well as brawn, however, should also mean thinking about how industrial action can increase the confidence of the working class to change society, as well as win individual conflicts.
It also means choosing the right tactic. In the years to come, it may be necessary for the labor movement to re-embrace hard picketing and illegal strikes, so that workers can defend their right to withdraw from work and fight for their interests.
Such militant methods are what is needed in an age of capitalist decline, where even the most basic necessities – like food and heating – are under serious threat for the working class.
As Mick Lynch said at the gala: “Conservatives and their cronies are ruthless in their pursuit of profit…We must be ruthless in our pursuit of justice for the working class.
Rampant inflation – on top of 10 years of stagnant real wages – is the straw that broke the camel’s back, triggering this wave of strikes.
Almost all of these trade union disputes, in whole or in part, relate to the issue of wages. And no wonder, with inflation now officially at 9.4%.
Even this large number hides the reality that working-class households face, with the price of everyday consumer goods like dough that rises by 50%; and a jar of butter in some supermarkets now costs £9.
Despite this, the bosses and the Conservative government continue to offer wage increases below inflation, that is, pay cuts in real terms.
For the bosses, it is an effort to consolidate and maximize their profits. For the Treasury, it’s a chance to tighten the purse strings on spending, given the monumental levels of public debt.
Public sector unions have already declared that they will be rejecting the government’s latest pathetic wage offerwhich describes increases of just 4% and 5%, respectively, of NHS nurses and teachers.
This means that more strikes are sure to be underway as workers fight to keep what they have and to win back what they have lost.
Already, PCS has set the dates for a civil service-wide ballot in September. The NEU also confirmed that teachers will be elected in the fall. And the new BMA chairman even said that a the doctors’ strike is inevitable.
Some important victories have already been achieved. In Unite, for example, some disputes have seen workers win large wage increases.
Inflation is expected to rise further in the fall. And who knows what next year will bring? It is therefore vital that unions fight for wage increases set at the rate of inflation, and not just for one-off packages or year-round contracts.
The trade union movement as a whole should demand a sliding scale of wages, with compensation linked to prices, so that such victories are not “here today, gone tomorrow”.
Such a measure was won by the labor movement in post-war Italy, for example. And there’s no reason a similar demand can’t be won here too, if the unions are willing to organize and fight for it.
Given the number of unions called upon to act in the coming months, it is vital that these struggles are not isolated, but coordinated.
Union leaders must therefore truly think and plan as a united labor movement, not as individual unions engaged in separate battles.
As Sharon Graham herself said to the the morning star at the Gala: “How can these social conflicts be linked? How do we connect outside of Unite, with what RMT, Unison, CWU are doing? »
Coordinated action, including a strike across the public sector, is inherent in the situation.
With the Tories in crisis, such a move, combined with mass protests in every city and town, has the potential to force a general election and bring down this degenerate government of crooks and charlatans.
It would also pose the question of a political program – a program of class demands that can unite the entire labor movement and offer a real alternative to inflation, austerity and capitalist crisis.
The TUC has proposed a “New Deal” charter. But the lukewarm demands it contains fall far short of what is required. At the same time, the TUC leaders are not using the collective industrial might of the trade union movement to fight for real change.
As part of a militant strategy of coordinated action, unions should therefore fight for a program of bold socialist policies, including the nationalization of big banks and big monopolies; expropriating billionaires and using their wealth to produce for need, not for profit.
Such a program is what Marxists fight for, in the labor movement and on the streets. This is the task posed by history. Nothing less than the socialist transformation of society will suffice.
Model Motion for TUC Congress
This Congress notes that the Conservative government is in a state of crisis, at a time when working people are experiencing a cost of living catastrophe.
Inflation is soaring, including rising energy bills, which are weighing on workers like never before. This comes on top of a decade of falling real wages and austerity.
At the same time, CEO compensation has returned to pre-pandemic levels and many companies are posting record profits.
This Congress also notes the increase in labor disputes in which our affiliated unions are engaged, including major nationwide strikes by the RMT and CWU, among others.
This Congress believes that, given the widespread crisis facing the working class, coordinated action must be used between unions and industry, as part of a common strategy to fight the bosses and the conservatives as united movement.
This should include united action in the public sector on wages, starting with a one-day strike across the public sector. Mass protests in every town and city are also expected to be staged to coincide with this, demanding a general election to overthrow the Conservative government.
This should be linked to the fight for a socialist political program, with a “New Deal for the working people” updated to include the following demands:
- A sliding scale of wages, linking wage increases to inflation.
- The reversal of all privatization and outsourcing in the NHS, with managed services under the control of healthcare workers.
- The repeal of all anti-union laws.
- A mass program of social housing construction, building one million houses a year.
- Nationalization of the big banks and the 150 main monopolies, without compensation.
- A planned economy, democratically managed by the workers in the interest of the people and not of profit.