The TUC one-day rally against the new anti-strike law, whilst welcome in itself, falls woefully short of giving any kind of a lead to a working class that has been for so long starved of socialist leadership.
The harmless-sounding Minimum Service Bill currently being pushed through Parliament is in fact an outright declaration of war against the working class, aimed at stripping workers of the right to withdraw their labour and go on strike.
For four decades the trade unions have seen the rights of organised labour undermined by wave after wave of hostile laws. Banning sympathy strikes, narrowing the scope for mounting picket lines, imposing ever more restrictions on the conduct of strike ballots, including the arbitrary institution of minimum turn-out thresholds, and a myriad other pettifogging constraints upon the legal right to withdraw labour – all these impudent encroachments on the right to strike have in practice been tolerated by an ever more submissive labour movement.
There has been much grumbling about the unfairness of these laws, various legal challenges to their implementation, and periodic half-hearted ‘campaigns’ to ditch the union-busting laws. What has never been seen from the TUC, however, is a readiness to mobilise workers to use their organised power to confront the state, not just symbolically, in fiery speeches, but in action, by collectively breaking these unjust laws and making it impossible for the union-busters to prevail.
Instead, most trade unions, with a few honourable exceptions, have submitted meekly to being neutered, getting side-tracked into promoting discount insurance schemes and the like for their members whilst continuing to fund an imperialist Labour party that stands unashamedly on the side of the bosses.
This abject failure of trade union bureaucrats to fight for workers’ fundamental rights, always excused by the wisdom of “keeping your powder dry” in readiness for the “real fight” to come, and jealously guarding the union’s finances for some future “rainy day”.
Well, the rainy day has come, but it is capitalism, not the unions, that has seized the initiative and started a real fight against workers’ few remaining rights. It is impelled to do this in order to make workers bear the burden of the inflationary cost of living crisis for which they bear no responsibility whatsoever.
The Minimum Service Bill step by step demolishes every last vestige of the right to strike, the one and only way that wage-slaves can collectively exercise their power within capitalist society. The bill gives the government unlimited authority to set minimum service levels for six public services: the NHS, the fire brigade, education, transport, the decommissioning of nuclear installations, and border controls.
Unions representing these key workers will have no say in the matter, leaving the government with a carte blanche to decide what ‘minimum service level’ actually is in any particular case. Affected workers who refuse to come into work will be sacked. And as reward for 40 years of passivity in the face of capitalist aggression, it will be the unions themselves that will be ordered to whip workers into line and break their own strikes in order to comply with the new rules.
The government will serve a “work notice”, laying down what the minimum service will be and which workers must be compelled to work. Next, the union itself is mandated to ensure that workers comply with the notice, identifying which workers must come into work and break the strike. If the union refuses to act as an agent of the government in this way, it can be sued and risk a fine or sequestration of its funds.
This anti-strike bill is not remotely to do with ‘protecting the public’. Indeed, it undermines existing “life and limb” arrangements already agreed to by unions to minimise real harm to the public.
It is everything to do with a coordinated attack on the right to strike, a key part of the campaign to make workers pay for the inflationary crisis by real-terms pay cuts, soaring prices and gutted public services.
This latest attack on the working class needs to be resisted, not just by one-day rallies, legal challenges and TUC declarations, but by an active campaign of non-cooperation with the new law in practice, making it impossible for the law to function.
Unions worth their salt should refuse to carry out the government’s strike-breaking ‘work orders’, instead instructing members to stand by the decision to go on strike. Conversely, if workers find that their existing leaders are collaborating with the class enemy, let such renegades be ousted and replaced by others who measure up to the needs of the hour.