The strike wave that began in June last year, as desperate workers supported industrial action to protest against efforts to make them bear the brunt of the inflationary cost of living crisis, has been impressive in its scope and duration.
The Office of National Statistics reported that days lost through strike action were the highest in 30 years, with over 2.4 million working days lost to strikes last year.
On 1 February, a day of action called by the TUC, over half a million workers went out on strike, including rail workers, bus drivers, civil servants and teachers. The RMT called its first national rail dispute since the privatisation of the railways and the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) called the first strike in its existence.
For a time, it seemed as if the growing anger of workers as burden after burden was heaped on their backs would prove a powerful enough impetus to make them break free from the suffocating embrace of the Labour party and hit back at the system which was systematically impoverishing them.
When the TUC proved unequal to the task of giving leadership to the struggle, the RMT’s Mick Lynch stepped into the breach, offering his own brand of militant trade unionism in a way that resonated not only with his own members but even with sections of the general public, who relished the sight of Lynch running rings around the gormless Good Morning Britain crew.
On an institutional level, the trade union based Enough Is Enough campaign thrived for a while, drumming up support for a similar mix of militant trade unionism.
But now the RMT has now suspended its strike so that members can mull over a slightly improved pay deal, while the RCN has called off the nurses’ strikes on just a vague promise of “intensive talks”.
The strike wave is not yet over – as this is written, the junior doctors have just concluded a three-day strike – but there is already a strong sense that union leaders are making a coordinated bid for the exit and calculating the most opportune moment to bail out, concerned not to achieve victory but to get just enough of a deal to be able to feed their members the standard line that this sell-out is ‘the best that could be achieved’.
This is a travesty of leadership and a blatant dereliction of duty. The real desire and urgent need of workers to fight is being systematically sold down the river by the very people who are paid to lead that struggle. And this despite the fact that many of the union members who are propelling the current actions are on breadline salaries that simply won’t allow them to keep body and soul together without a pay rise that at least keeps up with inflation.
These leaders’ routine insistence on pushing a ‘compromise’ that leaves their poorest members taking drastic real-terms pay cuts year on year is class treachery pure and simple.
Meanwhile, reports suggest that ‘Enough Is Enough’ meetings now attract a dwindling clientele, mostly composed of paid union officials whose real goal is neither smashing wage slavery, nor even seriously bargaining to raise the price of labour-power, but solely getting everyone to vote Labour at the next election.
The Trot/revisionist lash-up of usual suspects behind the abject ‘People’s Assembly’ is also pushing the ‘evil Tories’ mantra, calling on people to sign up and come along to local meetings in order to … you guessed it: ‘Bring down the Tories’.
No possible benefit can come to the working class from accepting this diversionary advice. Labour and Tory alike serve the same master and follow the same agenda: Save British imperialism, no matter what.
Our advice to workers is quite the reverse: Break the link with Labour, rebuild a real fighting trade union movement in Britain, resume a determined struggle for decent pay and conditions, and take up the struggle for socialism – the only real way out of the downward spiral of poverty, economic crisis and war.
Trade unionist politics, even if properly and militantly conducted, are not able to offer a lasting way out of the fix workers are in. Only when we raise our horizon from the demand that capitalism treats its slaves a little better (a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay) and fix instead on the revolutionary demand for a complete end to our wage slavery – in short, that we demand socialism – will we be able to secure enduring progress.