Jersey: fighting for workers' rights and democracy

Submitted by Matthew on 27 May, 2010 - 10:08 Author: Bea Mills

On the back of the hugely successful result on the ballot for industrial action by teachers on Jersey against pay freezes and cuts, the workers’ committee in Jersey last week began to move towards realisation of its own independence and the importance of now linking the industrial with the political.

Heavily dominated by Unite and its affiliates, the committee remained resolute in its determination to grow as a body that would welcome all unions on the island to its ranks. Rather than being subsumed by the defunct Trades Council, it decided to co-opt the Trades Council and the benefits that might bring in terms of TUC affiliation. To ensure the distinction and the independence is clear, the committee will not be calling itself a Trades Council.

Unite had also declared it would be backing Deputy Geoff Southern of the Jersey Democratic Alliance in the upcoming Senatorial by-election on the island. This prompted the committee to respond by agreeing to organise the first trade union hustings seen on Jersey in order for the committee itself to decide on a candidate rather than blindly follow Unite’s decision.

Their hustings will also provide the ideal opportunity for the workers’ committee to launch itself as a body and invite other unions to join it, whilst at the same time sending a clear message to the States of Jersey that the unions are organised and growing in strength.

This was an important point for this group of public sector unions who are feeling ever more confident due to the success of the teachers’ ballot. The fire service, prison officers and nurses have not yet settled. Having seen the teachers turning out to vote for action, the nurses are hoping to follow suit.

The idea of the necessity and logic of forming a workers’ party is beginning to become apparent. This first step of engaging in the island’s politics by making demands in the political arena as well as the industrial is being clearly seen by some on the committee as the first step on the path to that end.

The Alliance for Workers’ Liberty is now organising public meetings on the island. The second such meeting, in St Helier, attracted a range of trade union activists, students and campaigners to discuss why the working class on Jersey needs its own political party. We discussed how it might come into being and what demands it should raise. For all present, the question of independent working-class politics on Jersey was not abstract - it is the most urgent political question on the island at the moment.

Politics on Jersey is currently the preserve of super-rich individuals, and cliques of corrupt, right-wing businessmen. The total control that business has over the running of the island means that everything, from the tax system to unfair employment laws, is run in the interests of big business, and at the expense of working-class people and public services. The decision by the States to make £50million public spending cuts rather than tax the rich and big business is a clear example of how the rich wield the state in Jersey against workers.

One public sector trade unionist told Solidarity: “One very important issue is that there is no gender discrimintion law in Jersey. It’s been debated on and off in the States since the year 2000 and we’ve just been told it’s been deferred again because it’d be too expensive for the States to implement!

“You can lose your job if you have a baby in the first year of service, and if you’re off sick in the first three months after having a baby, you can lose six weeks of maternity pay. That’s the case for all state employees.”

There has been a small number of left-leaning deputies over recent years, and currently there is only one — Monty Tadier, who is part of the “Time For Change” group. Nick Le Cornu, a Time For Change supporter, who is standing in the forthcoming senatorial by-election on a pro-union, working-class platform, told Solidarity, “It’s important to fight the austerity programme which is going to affect working people. That’s the big issue at the moment: the cuts caused by the failure of the 0:10 tax policy. They’re trying to put the burden on ordinary wage earners and not privileged corporations who pay zero tax. It’s about defending living standards against the assault that’s going to come, against the cutbacks.”

But Time For Change is a loose grouping of activists, without a firm basis in working-class politics. It is not directly linked to the workers’ movement, nor is it accountable to working-class organisations.

The AWL believes that the rank-and-file co-ordinating group of trade union activists that has sprung up over recent months, and which represents workers from across the public sector, should form a political party of its own, which could regroup workers in the private sector, service-users and campaign groups like Time For Change.

A working-class political party, with a joined-up programme of demands would be able to command mass support and grow much faster than small leftwing associations like Time For Change. The workers’ movement on Jersey is already taking steps in this direction, by preparing to hold trade union hustings for candidates in the forthcoming senatorial election.

As Nick put it, “The unions need to make political demands to achieve their economic demands. Otherwise they won’t get very much at all”.

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