Bromley: Half-hearted resistance to mass-privatisation
The Tory council in Bromley, Kent, just like hundreds of other councils of all political stripes in the country, is busily outsourcing and degrading its public-service responsibilities. In the case of Bromley, the intention is to reduce the directly employed workforce from 3,000 to 300.
The good news is that an energetic local campaign has been drawing popular support against this hiving-off of everything from childcare staff to library assistants, prompting the Unite union to start balloting on 11 March for strike action. (See ‘Strike ballot as Tory-run Bromley council plans to dramatically slash its workforce’, unitetheunion.org, 25 February 2015)
The bad news is that the union will only be balloting the 100-odd Unite members who are directly hired by the council, ignoring the other 300-odd Unite members who in practice work for the council but technically are employed by private agencies.
Playing by the rules in this way may for the moment keep the union safely on the right side of the legal ban on sympathy strikes, but it plays straight into the employer’s divide-and-rule strategy. The 2,500 council workers who are not currently in Unite might be a bit more inspired to join the union were it to attend less to the law and more to the class-struggle interests of its members.
This minor example of punch-pulling caution is not peculiar to Unite or to Britain. All the national confederations affiliated to the ITUC (the International Trade Union Confederation) are essentially imbued with the same social-democratic politics of the Second International. What they all have in common is that, while they may occasionally strike militant poses with their rhetoric, they in practice wind up embracing reformism all down the line.
To give an example, on 18 February the ITUC bravely declared a “global day of action” to celebrate the “right to strike”. Yet, as South African trade unionist Ludmilla Sibanda pointed out, this is the height of hypocrisy.
Sibanda, a member of the Youth Secretariat of the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU), posed the question: “How many times have trade unionists of the TUC in Britain, AFL-CIO in USA, in LO-Sweden, in LO-Denmark, in Finland, in Australia, in Austria, in Switzerland etc. heard from the leaderships of the Confederations that a general strike … will never be organised by them because it is ‘too political’? Let us just remember that the last general strike in Britain was in 1926, in USA in 1936, in Australia in 1976!“
We should add that, so far as Britain is concerned, every year the TUC’s annual conference passes a resolution begging it to examine the feasibility of organising a general strike, in response to which the leadership, bound by indissoluble ties to the imperialist Labour party, instead organises another ‘day of action’. (In truth, so deeply weakened by opportunism has the labour movement in Britain become that, even if Frances O’Grady herself, in a mad half-hour, were actually to ‘name the day for a general strike’ she would be greeted mostly by blank incomprehension, so cheated of decent class leadership have been the masses for so long).
The comrade goes on to remind us that the last confederation to host the ITUC congress was the DGB of Germany. This is the same “DGB that openly attacked the strike in the transport sector in 2014 and has openly supported together with the employers a government bill to ban the right to strike to smaller unions. In practice, DGB of Germany is against the freedom of association. With this legislation it will be given the monopoly of controlling the workers’ struggle to suppress it.“
Sibanda notes that in Greece, the ITUC-affiliated General Confederation (GSEE) actually tried to steer workers away from striking and, when this failed, did all within their means to sabotage the strikes. It was left to the communist-oriented PAME (All-Workers Militant Front) to lead a militant strike movement in Greece over the past five years.
And now, taking its faith in the bourgeois state machine to a whole new level, the ITUC is “proposing that the question, raised by employers in the ILO [International Labour Organisation], of whether there should be a right to strike and what are its ‘limitations’, should be referred to and answered by the International Court of Justice! This means that the ITUC wants to refer a right gained by bloody workers’ struggles to an advisory judicial organ which is not and cannot be neutral.“(‘The hypocrisy of ITUC and the fake interest of reformists for the “right to strike”‘, pamehellas.gr, 16 February 2015)
Yet it is these fraudsters who dare to pose as champions of the right to strike – just as every year the Labour ‘left’ in this country like to swan around Tolpuddle for the weekend, trying to pose as the legitimate heirs of the courageous Dorset labourers who were transported to Australia for trying to organise a union.
Workers fight back: Costain backs down
Despite this constant pressure towards class-collaboration in the unions, workers’ struggles keep breaking through and escaping the reformist net, serving as a cheering reminder of what happens when we remember the power we have – and use it.
Such was the case when mass pressure got a worker on the London Crossrail project reinstated. The Costain employee was sacked on Friday 13 February for daring to raise a health and safety issue – the same ‘crime’ which has seen so many conscientious reps blacklisted.
In response, grassroots Unite members from the construction industry massed in the centre of London the following Monday, blocking Oxford Street by 8.00am. A little later, word came through that the sacked man had been put on full pay and promised his job back.
Protesters have vowed to return to the streets if the promise is not kept. (See ‘Victory! Protest wins reinstatement of Crossrail worker’, shopstewards.net, 17 February 2015)
Workers fight back: Immigration Street
Another impressive exercise of workers’ power came when Channel 4 tried to pick on the working-class Derby Road area of Southampton as the victim for their next cheap, nasty and divisive ‘reality TV’ show.
Where the earlier Benefits Street had concentrated on stigmatising those in receipt of benefits as ‘work-shy scroungers’, thereby boosting Channel 4’s ratings and furthering the divide-and-rule strategy by means of which workers’ attention is distracted from the real source of all social maladies, namely capitalism, Channel 4 clearly hoped they could repeat the same money-spinning lynch-mob formula in Southampton by capitalising on Derby Road’s mix of races and faiths, barmily rebranding it as Immigration Street.
This time, however, people decided to fight back, making it clear that the TV company was not wanted stirring up trouble in Southampton. (See ‘If a community speaks and nobody hears it, does it make a sound?’ by Richard Penny, sotonpolitics.org, 1 August 2014)
Attempts to go ahead with the filming were obstructed by angry local residents who pelted the camera crew with eggs and flour, forcing them to retreat to side streets to continue filming.
Neighbours, residents’ associations, community groups and trade-union activists got together and formed the Southampton Communities Alliance. Rallies were held both in Southampton itself and outside Channel 4’s HQ in London. (See ‘Immigration Street press release’ by Southampton Connect, southamptonvs.org.uk, 23 February 2015)
Confronted by this spirited resistance, Channel 4 hastily jettisoned plans for a six-part extravaganza, settling instead for a one-hour documentary, which, according to Pat O’Dell of the Newtown Residents’ Association, “was cleverly edited to bring in the violence”.
The real violence, needless to say, was Channel 4’s attempt to stir up racism and anti-muslim sentiment in a working-class community where people rub along quite happily if left to their own devices. (See ‘Immigration Street airs tonight’ by Hajera Blagg, unitelive.org, 24 February 2015)
> Strike ballot as Tory-run Bromley council plans to dramatically slash its workforce, Unite the Union, February 2015
> The Hypocrisy of ITUC and the fake interest of reformists for the right to strike , PAME, February 2015
> Protest wins reinstatement of Crossrail workers , The Shop Stewards Network, February 2015
> If a community speaks and nobody hears does it make a sound?, Politics Upside Down, August 2014
> Immigration Street, Southampton Voluntary Service, February 2015
> Immigration Street airs tonight, Unite Live, February 2015