Rebuilding solidarity in the trade union movement

Submitted by Matthew on 2 February, 2011 - 1:49

Co-ordinated industrial action by trade unions to halt (at least some of) the massive attacks on workers’ jobs and living standards by this Tory-led Government is promoted as the current main demand of the trade union left.

Perhaps it should be, but as Marxists we need to face a few uncomfortable truths about focussing on this strategy alone.

The only co-ordinated action being seriously contemplated by trade union leaders is against the attack on public sector pensions.

Of course the public pensions issue is important and it may well be possible to win a round of national ballots on the proposed massive hike in contributions and other changes. But another set of negotiations with the Government is due, agreement on implementation has been delayed until June, and everyone seems to be waiting for someone else to make the first move…

An issue that would unite public sector workers now (and indeed some private sector workers and all benefit claimants as well) is the change in indexing from the Retail Price Index to Consumer Price Index.

This, it is estimated, will save the Government in the long term £1.8 billion from the value of public pensions and £6 billion from welfare payments. But as things stand this is likely to go unchallenged before the change is made this April.

We are being robbed — we must fight back.

There is a collective timidity amongst many on the right of the trade union movement in the face of the cuts, and it has a deeply worrying aspect in relation to union rights.

The Tories are talking tough on restrictions on the right to strike and many right wing trade unionists don’t want to rock the boat. (This was why many failed to properly support John McDonnell’s Private Members’ Bill last year).

But fear of not rocking the boat when Labour was in power is why we have the absurd hurdles (40% and differing bargaining units) on ballots for union recognition. It is these concessions that the Tories are using as a springboard for further attacks on union rights. Now is no time to compromise on the right to strike.

Public sector workers up and down the UK are receiving redundancy notices and many private sector workers are feeling the effects of a slowdown in growth — pay freezes, reductions in terms and conditions, reductions in service delivery as well major job losses.

The least we in the organised labour movement can do in such circumstances is to practise effective solidarity. As trade unionists we can’t demand that politicians fight every cut if we don’t fight for every job.

• Maria Exall is an Executive member of the Communication Workers’ Union and a member of the TUC General Council. She writes here in a personal capacity.

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