The decision of both the postal and rail workers to cancel planned strikes in defence of pay and conditions raises serious questions about the ability of the present union structures to fulfil their role of directing the struggle over the terms of exploitation for Britain’s put-upon workers.
Nobody with an ounce of class-consciousness could fail to have been cheered by the wave of militant and spontaneous resistance against the efforts of government and bosses to make workers carry the burden of a cost of living crisis not of their making. The sight of posties, rail workers, dockers and others all putting two fingers up to the establishment has been a tonic for suffering workers everywhere.
And it may well be too soon to declare that the current wave of strike action is at an end. After all, even the ludicrous display of forelock-tugging occasioned by the death of the queen, quite needlessly disrupting the flow of the industrial action, registered only as a regrettable blip, so deep is the wellspring of workers’ anger at their rapid descent into poverty.
Members demand a fight while leaders hoist a white flag
But the suspension of rail strikes in exchange merely for a dubious promise of ‘unconditional talks’, and even more the capitulation of the CWU at the first legal hurdle, cannot but reveal the fatal ideological weakness of a working-class movement that has for so long been starved of decent class-conscious leadership and has instead been force-fed an unleavened diet of class-collaborationist Labour party politics.
When unionised Royal Mail workers voted by 98 percent in favour of strikes, they handed their leaders a bullet-proof mandate for action. Yet at the first legal challenge the CWU’s officials ran for cover. The legal challenge was a blatantly provocative exercise in nit-picking, with Royal Mail raising phony objections about the information given to them by the union concerning which members had been balloted in just three out of 1,500 workplaces!
Shamefully, CWU general secretary Dave Ward compounded the betrayal by playing devil’s advocate, insulting members’ intelligence by pretending that the abrupt retreat was in fact a clever tactical manoeuvre, even suggesting that the cancellation of strikes could be good thing, as it allowed both sides to “focus on negotiations”. He further suggested (entirely spuriously) that “attempting to negotiate when you’re also striking can be difficult”.
Members’ responses to this nonsense in an online meeting were excoriating, The bureaucrats running the CWU were roundly condemned as “amateurs” and “sell-outs” who had “bottled it”, presiding over a “shambles” and a “farce” and earning the dubious title of the “shittest union going”.
Frustrated members used graphic language to describe the class-collaboration of the union leadership, complaining that the “union bent over and took it from behind again” and “these guys are in bed with the Tories”. (Strike cancellation provokes workers’ fury as UK’s Royal Mail declares war by Laura Tiernan, WSWS, 31 October 2022)
The answer to Ward’s claim that this was all for the best was supplied the very next day, when Royal Mail announced a derisory below-inflation pay offer of 7 percent, spread over two years and conditional on workers sucking up ‘productivity’ measures that will put a further squeeze on an already hard-pressed workforce.
And just to add insult to injury, Royal Mail announced that with immediate effect new employees will be hired on worse terms than existing employees and the company will bring in ‘owner-drivers’, similar to the way Uber works – all measures designed to divide and weaken the workforce.
No meaningful opposition to new scabs’ charter
In declaring class war against its own employees, Royal Mail will be assisted by new government regulations under which companies have the right to use agency workers to fill in for striking workers. This scabs’ charter is sufficiently outrageous to stir even the mummified TUC ‘leadership’ to go through the motions of opposition, reportedly coordinating the efforts of 11 different unions (not including the CWU to date) in beginning legal proceedings to protect the right to strike.
Coordinating litigation is all well and good, but what the TUC obstinately refuses to coordinate is a class-wide offensive to resist the class war waged by capital against the workers right across the board. Yet if coordinating trade unions in a united push-back against capitalist aggression is not a job that even registers on the Transport House radar, then is it naive to ask what really is the purpose of this august body?
In reality, the TUC, in lockstep with the Labour party, has an unbroken record of disorganising and demobilising workers, consistently impeding their attempts to coordinate decisive united action against the class enemy and instead using its power and prestige in the labour movement to undermine any real progress of labour against capital.
Who can forget the part played by the TUC in 1984, when it used its power to rein in and undermine the spontaneous wave of sympathy strikes in support of the miners? Not for nothing did the miners attending the TUC’s annual congress feel moved to sling a rope noose over the rafters when TUC head Norman Willis took the rostrum.
Nor was this a novel role for the TUC, which had plumbed the lowest depths of class treachery when it shamefully sold out the general strike of 1926.
Organised resistance desperately needed
But the blatant attacks on the conditions of existence of ever wider circles of workers, including erstwhile privileged sections of the class driven into the lower proletarian depths by the cost of living crisis, are threatening to stir up long-dormant class hatreds against the minority of exploiters in whose interests Britain is currently run.
Already workers, despairing of any real leadership coming from the TUC, are instead turning toward social movements like Enough Is Enough to do the job the TUC has so signally failed to perform.
The class of exploiters, for its part, is well aware that it is playing with fire, and for that reason is hastening to make its own preparations to deal with the social revolt coming down the line. Capitalism is preparing – indeed, has already begun – a ruthless class war against workers.
Workers need to reciprocate by organising the take-over of their existing union structures or by building new ones that are both willing and able to wage the class struggle effectively in defence of pay and conditions for as long as crisis-ridden capitalism continues to control our economic and political life. In the battle for the division of profits, every penny for the workers comes out of capitalist profits, while every penny on the profit-margin comes out of workers’ bellies.
Meanwhile, the crisis is revealing once more the urgent necessity of ending once and for all the irrational and irreformable wages system.
To that end, all those who have woken up to this necessity must focus their energies on waking up their fellows likewise, and on building the vanguard party of scientific socialism that alone is capable of leading the working class to the overthrow of capitalism, the common ownership of the means of production and the establishment of a planned socialist economy under the control of the proletarian dictatorship (that is, of the workers’ state).