Industry matters: After the 26 March demo

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Proletarian writers

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After 26 March

In the continuing absence of a clear strategy of resistance to unite workers under fire from the class enemy, other than generalised calls for a general strike, attention remains fixated on the ‘next big thing’.

First it was last October’s spending review, then it was the Millbank occupation, and most recently it was the massive TUC march. Now all focus seems to be on 30 June, when it is hoped that coordinated action from local government workers and teachers will spearhead a day of strikes and demonstrations against the government’s austerity plans.

There have already been positive signs from these sectors. For example, at the end of March teachers and council workers struck across Tower Hamlets in East London in response to the threat of 500 redundancies hitting everything from social services to schools and youth work. Members of Unison and NUT formed joint picket lines, shutting many schools, and 1,500 workers and teachers marched together.

The PCS is now cooperating with the NUT and UCU to plan for a joint strike in defence of public-sector pensions. At the NUT conference in Harrogate delegates voted unanimously for strike action over pensions.

The same period has seen hundreds of joiners, painters, plumbers and scaffolders working for the council in Dundee walk off the job in wildcat protest at the management going back on an agreement guaranteeing that temps would get permanent status after staying in post for two years. Over 100,000 lecturers went on strike, and now even the traditionally conservative nurses’ union RCN has threatened to strike in defence of the NHS.

Nor has the recent wave of militancy been restricted to such sectors as these. Over 400 workers locked out of a contract at a biofuels plant in Saltend (near Hull) since mid-March have been staging sit-in protests. In the kind of contractual maze within which workers’ rights so often get lost, workers were employed by one firm, Redhall, to carry out the work for another, Vivergo. When Vivergo saw the chance of replacing them with a cheaper workforce, it cancelled the contract.

Predictably, Vivergo are now crying foul over the workers’ actions in defence of their jobs, claiming they have no contractual obligation to contracted-out staff. Workers are getting wise to these tricks however, and the Saltend workers declined to tie themselves up in legal knots. Instead, they voted with their feet and occupied the site. Their well-attended protests – 700-strong on some days – have been supported by other workers from refineries in North Lincolnshire (Lindsey and ConocoPhillips) and power stations in Pembroke and Nottinghamshire (Ratcliff-on-Soar), resulting in road closures and traffic diversions.

When Vivergo built a fence to keep the workers out, they promptly flooded the centre of Hull and protested there instead. As we write, the dispute is hotting up, with the arrest of a national GMB official and the police theft of videotape evidence documenting events on the picket line.

Strike action threatened by London Tube workers in support of two unfairly dismissed RMT reps led to the Transport Secretary threatening in turn to unleash Boris Johnson on them if they persist in defending their trade-union rights, warning that they are “only strengthening the hand of those, including the mayor, who are calling for tougher industrial relations laws”.

A Tory private member’s bill proposing to ban strikes where less than 50 percent of the total workforce vote in favour would set an interesting precedent for future bourgeois elections, where national governments are routinely elected on the votes of a dwindling minority of the eligible population. For their part, Tube workers are well used to such intimidation and show no sign of being fazed by this latest twist.

Wales Shop Stewards Network

From the above it is clear that there are some grounds for the optimism expressed by many at the anti-cuts conference run by Wales SSN in Cardiff on 15 April, along the lines that after 26 March everything would change: the spirit of militancy that the TUC had inadvertently unbottled could not now be extinguished.

As John McInally of PCS noted, the TUC had been as scared by the size of the turn-out on 26 March as had been the government. He derided the mentality of the TUC leadership who wanted us all to keep our heads down for five years on the anticipation that things would get so bad that people would be driven back to vote Labour back in. In his estimation, even if a Labour government were returned, it would by that time take some 20 or 30 years to reverse the effects of the cuts.

He spoke for the vast majority of delegates when he turned his fire on “some on the left” who remained equivocal over the “fight ALL cuts” slogan, pointing to the sins of Rhondda council to rub home his point. He said PCS was 100 percent behind the UK Uncut occupations and advised the TUC to spend less time condemning protesters and more time leading resistance.

Several delegates warned against the idea that devolution had rendered Welsh workers any less vulnerable to cuts, or that there was some special ‘Welsh way of dealing with cuts’ other than resisting them head-on. It was noted that Neath/Port Talbot council had disgraced itself by voting through the cuts, whilst one speaker contrasted the cuts in services pushed through by Cardiff council with the £70m earmarked for a new business centre.

Another pointed out that, whilst it was true that Wales had been spared the curse of ‘free’ schools, education was still under massive attack in the country, with classes forced to merge, teaching assistants used as cut-price teachers, ‘volunteer’ teachers taking the place of paid dinner staff and the closure of rural schools.

As regards council workers, particular loathing was reserved for the so-called Memorandum of Understanding that Unison leaders had been prevailed upon to sign up to, committing the union to accept the inevitability of cuts in Wales in exchange for some vague undertakings from local councils to endeavour to soften the blow. A Unison rep aptly compared this to Chamberlain’s “Peace in our time” appeasement.

McInally’s dim view of Labour and the TUC leadership was well-nigh universal at the conference. The fact that so few voices are now raised in even coded defence of Labour at such meetings must on some level reflect a sea change in the mood of the working class – though hardly as a result of the TUC’s efforts in marching the banners up the hill and back down again on 26 March.

Sadly though, McInally also involuntarily revealed the social-democratic constraints within which the healthy spirit of militancy remains confined. He conceded that the alternative strategy the PCS and others were urging upon Barber – ie, stop the tax evaders, curb bankers’ bonuses and prime the economic pumps – was more Keynesian than socialist, but argued that this was the only way to get workers mobilised to resist.

Responding to remarks from a member of CPGB-ML along the lines that workers needed to be informed about the real character of the overproduction crisis and to be told the truth about the revolutionary tasks with which history would confront them, he replied that most workers were not versed in Marxist economics and would not understand – though “of course” everyone in the room understood that at the end of the day we needed socialism!

Greek lessons

The continuing mass struggles in Greece against the government’s implementation of the IMF-dictated austerity package remain a constant inspiration. If McInally wants to strengthen the mobilisation of British workers against the cuts, he could pay some attention to the political analysis that the communists there are laying out for workers to study and act upon, apparently without fear that workers will prove to be reluctant students.

Explaining why they had called another mass communist rally in Athens, the KKE did not talk about marching for a (capitalist) ‘alternative’, or marching to put pressure on the social-democratic government, or the need for Greece to ‘grow its way out of recession’. They said rather that “The KKE escalates its political activity and intervention in this way in order to win over new working-class and popular consciousness, in the direction of rupture with the power of capital, for its overthrow …

The party’s general secretary, Aleka Papariga, so far from encouraging her listeners to fix their hopes upon a capitalist recovery and a return to politics as usual, actually counselled them to embrace the political instability that accompanies capitalist crisis. People “should not fear anything that weakens the power of the monopolies, which stems from its own intervention”. On the contrary, “people must be fearful when there is a stable government, a majority or coalition government which uses the people’s fear of anarchy to push forward the worst measures”.

So far from praying for the end of recession, Papariga predicts that “In the end, there will be some sort of recovery for the capitalists, but not for the people’s living standards and the right of the people to work. It will be temporary. There will be a new cycle of crisis, even deeper than the one which we are experiencing today … From here on things will worsen if we do not work for a radical political change … As long as capitalism develops, it will become more reactionary, inflexible to the demands of the people, barbaric, dangerous and parasitical.

The cause of the economic crisis is the incentive of capitalist profit from the increasingly intense level of exploitation of the workers, which is the driving force of production and the economy. The capitalists push the increase in production to its limits because they desire superprofits. They produce in order to achieve profits, and at the same time undermine the buying power of the workers.

How foolhardy of Papariga to hit the working class with all this Marxist theory! They will surely yawn and walk away? Yet the strikes, demonstrations and rallies organised by the KKE and the PAME popular front on a regular basis routinely pull out numbers as great as or greater than the TUC’s once-in-a-blue-moon 26 March effort.

Eke out an ever more miserable existence … or resist!

The CPGB-ML’s banner-quote from Stalin elicited almost as much interest on the May Day march as did the portrait of the man himself.

[Banner quote reads: “Either place yourself at the mercy of capital, eke out a wretched existence as of old and sink lower and lower, or adopt a new weapon – this is the alternative imperialism puts before the vast masses of the proletariat. Imperialism brings the working class to revolution.” J V Stalin]

There could be no more telling confirmation of Stalin’s famous dictum than the vile assault now being mounted on benefit claimants, an assault organised by obscenely wealthy and corrupt privatised beneficiaries of the Big Society. No matter how low we duck, the insatiable demand for profit will always conspire to thrust us lower yet, until our resistance begins in earnest.

A recent report revealed that the number of people who have had their Job Seekers’ Allowance (JSA) stopped as a sanction for not looking for work has increased by 40 percent between April and October last year, as DWP staff are pressurised to meet targets for getting people off the dole.

Claimants are tricked into losing their benefits so these targets can be met, including stunts like giving dyslexic customers written job searches that they cannot read, and then accusing them of not seeking work. Between January and October last year, the number of claimants with registered disabilities being cut off more than doubled. Predictably enough, the regions with high sanction referral rates tend to be more deprived areas. (Guardian, 2 April 2011)

Meanwhile, DWP staff are in danger of being driven onto the dole queue themselves, as pressure builds to privatise the unemployment business and hand it to monopoly capitalists as the one sure-fire remaining growth industry. Likely candidate A4e (Action for Employment) increased its profits by 80 percent in the last financial year on the back of ‘welfare to work’ contracts, and has now landed five out of 40 new DWP contracts.