Tony Greenstein | 10 November 2022 | Post Views:

The Refusal of the Trade Union Leaders to Meet the Challenge of the Conservative’s Class War is Why These Traitors Need to be Replaced

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Crisis What Crisis’ is the phrase that Labour Prime Minister James Callaghan was reputed to have uttered as he returned from a visit abroad to the Winter of Discontent in 1979. It could equally apply to the Labour and Conservative front benches.

As the Royal College of Nursing, which is more of a professional association than a union, vote for their first ever strike, the political class seems to have taken Callaghan’s message to heart.

Under Starmer it is difficult to put a piece of paper between Labour and the Tories. Instead of defending refugees against Suella Braverman’s racist rhetoric of an ‘invasion’, Rachel Reeves attacked her for not deporting more asylum seekers.

When Sunak contemplates ‘eye-watering’ cuts in public expenditure, Labour fails to point out that a wealth tax and clamping down on tax evaders would more than fill the fiscal gap.

Of course Starmer has more urgent priorities such as eliminating what is left of the Labour Left. Deselecting one of the few socialist Labour MPs, by hook or by crook (mainly the latter) is of far more importance than confronting the Tory agenda.

It was therefore no surprise that when a rash of strikes broke out in the summer, led by the RMT, that Starmer’s response was to refuse to    support the strike and to forbid the Shadow Cabinet from joining the picket lines.

It would look bad apparently and detract from Labour as a serious party of government to be seen on picket lines. This despite the massive public support for the strike.

Schmoozing with hedge fund owners and multi-millionaires was not seen as a problem of optics. Supporting further privatisation of the NHS is no problem for Starmer and Wes Streeting, the Shadow Health Secretary.

We should bear in mind that Shirley Williams, a founder of the SDP, when she was Education Minister in the Callaghan Government, joined the picket lines at Grunwicks. This demonstrates just how right-wing Starmer is.

Energy has risen 100% in one year and coupled with the crisis for food banks and child poverty it might be thought that this would prompt a concerted trade union response. Especially since the government has announced proposals to outlaw any effective strike in the public sector.

Yet what is the response of the trade union leaders to the gauntlet thrown down by this government? A determined attempt to avoid any confrontation with the Tory government. It is as if they have learnt nothing from the halving of trade union membership since Thatcher became Prime Minister.

In the early 1970s when unofficial strikes were extremely popular and union leaders struggled to control their own members, the TUC was forced into organising an Emergency Conference which voted to defy the union laws. When Ted Heath and Sir John Donaldson at the National Industrial Relations Court confronted the Pentonville 5 dockers who were sent to gaol the TUC called a general strike.

This was enough for a hitherto unknown figure called the Official Solicitor to make an appearance before Lord Denning at the Court of Appeal.  The result was the decision of Donaldson was overturned and the dockers freed. Never before in its history had the Court of Appeal acted so fast! The House of Lords later reversed the Court of Appeal but by then the dockers had won anyway.

The most popular and well supported strike this summer has been that of the RMT.  But instead of calling an all-out strike and demanding that the TUC provide them with the means to sustain it, Mick Lynch and the RMT leadership have instead staged a series of one day strikes whose only effect is to postpone the day of reckoning.

Even worse they have called off the strikes as they begin negotiations with the employers. Instead of ensuring that the rail bosses feel the heat during their negotiations they have demobilised their own membership.

The CWU leadership is even worse. When Royal Mail threatened legal action if a series of strikes went ahead, they rushed to call off all the strikes, including those which weren’t under threat.  Royal Mail has meanwhile derecognised the union yet its fake left leadership still pose as class fighters at Campaign Group rallies.

The key problem facing the trade unions today is a historic one. The divorce between economics and politics. Even those trade union leaders who advocate greater militancy, like UNITE’s Sharon Graham, have little or nothing to say politically.  Graham, like Lynch, has pledged her support for Starmer saying that she was ‘not interested in the internal game-playing within a political party’ as if the battle between left and right is simply a game of football. In the battle between Left and Right in the Labour Party Graham has no position.  All she supports is a limited militancy divorced from         political change.

The idea, beloved of the Socialist Workers Party, that all that matters is increasing the number of strikes and everything else will take care of itself, is a classic case of syndicalism. That you don’t need to forge a political leadership or challenge the capitalist system itself, in all its manifestations. All that is necessary is to win the battle for wage increases with the employer. The problem is that in a society based on profit employers can plead poverty and blackmail workers into accepting wage increases if they want to keep their jobs.

Strikes take place within a legal framework set by the government. If striking is made more difficult because of onerous legal restrictions then it is going to be harder to win a strike. And if rail unions are prevented from staging effective strikes by new laws then militancy by its own is not a solution.

We face the most bitter class war offensive in living memory. The energy costs cannot be brought back down unless the energy companies are nationalised. Strike action cannot be successful if trade unions have one hand tied behind their backs. Yet who among the union leaders is willing to make a stand or call for generalised action?

What is needed is the equivalent of the action the ‘markets’ i.e finance capital took when it went on strike when Lizz Truss decided to finance tax cuts by increasing government borrowing, i.e. a general strike. The only way to defeat the anti-trade union laws is to break them. Yet the TUC, whose only historical function has been to betray the working class, runs a mile from the idea of confrontation with the government and the courts.

What is worse is that even the ‘left’ trade union leaders – Mick Lynch, Sharon Graham, Dave Ward – concentrate on sectional disputes and avoid the idea of a political confrontation with the government like the plague. The fact that the capitalists use extra parliamentary pressure to secure what they want makes no difference. They are content to feed off the crumbs from the table. The RMT has a wage claim for less than the rate of inflation.

The cost of living crisis that now faces millions of people demands a political challenge to the neo-liberal system that transfers wealth from the poorest to the richest.

The one group of people to benefit from the pandemic was British billionaires. Their numbers increased by 24% to 171 and their total wealth increased by 21.7%. Whilst health workers faced death and exhaustion at work, the super-rich did very well out of others’ misery. This is the neo-liberal ‘trickle-down’ economics that Liz Truss but also Rishi Sunak and Starmer represent.

This is why the Socialist Labour Network had decided to hold a public meeting with a range of speakers including:

Ken Loach – award-winning film-maker and socialist, will share his ideas on how to advance towards a new party

Lindsey German – author, socialist activist and spokesperson for the People’s Assembly against Austerity, on how to build the fightback against the Tories

Candy Gregory – independent socialist councillor, Thanet District Council, on the campaign against conditions at the Manston Refugee Centre

Carel Buxton – SLN national Steering Group, Newham Socialist Labour and Newham Enough is Enough, will put the case for SLN’s appeal for the formation of a new mass working class party.

As Sunak struggles to stabilise the Tories, Starmer lurches ever further to the right.

This Socialist Labour Network Online Public Meeting therefore comes at a critical time. How can we step up and unify the fightback against the Tories? Can we break Starmer’s stranglehold? Above all, how can we take forward the fight for a new, mass, working-class party?

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Tony Greenstein

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