Strike to stop the Tory Strikes Bill!
All Out on 1st February Day of Action
Unite & extend the strikes – No one settles until everyone settles
Indefinite nationwide strike action in key services
Build elected workplace & inter-union action committees
Unite the strikes with community action – Build Strike to Win Committees
“The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle…. If there is no struggle, there is no progress…. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what a people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them.” (Frederick Douglass, 1857)
18 January 2023
No-one should under-estimate the threat of this government or the destruction it has already inflicted on our lives, our rights, our public services – and on democracy. It is a fundamentally weak government because the racist Brexit project – which is the one and only reason for its existence – has been an economic disaster for working class and struggling middle class people. The Movement for Justice (MFJ) believes that the main reason for the government’s survival is that its opponents have been unwilling to acknowledge the reality of its dictatorial, proto-fascist character – and because the Labour Party under Starmer has become its pale shadow (e.g. the Tories rip up the NHS and try to crush hospital staff with even more work – so Labour leaders, who refuse to support the strikes, attack doctors as running hospitals for their own convenience and say NHS staff must accept ‘reform’).
The Tories’ new Strikes Bill [the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill] should be an over-due wake-up call.
The growing wave of strikes by over-worked, under-paid public service workers is the most significant fight against this government and its policies. The strikes are popular with the victims of those policies – the millions of working class, poor, oppressed and immigrant people. The most outspoken union leader, Mick Lynch of the RMT, is more popular than any politician. The government is seriously alarmed; the new bill is an attempt to destroy workers’ ability to take effective strike action in the public services.
The government changes the law in order to attack public service workers
The Strikes Bill comes after 40-plus years of legislation that has trapped trade unions in a monstrous set of undemocratic procedures and restrictions – the most oppressive anti-union laws in Europe. This Bill takes that to a new, more dangerous level.
It must be one of the shortest and least detailed bills ever put before Parliament because it is basically a form of ‘Enabling Law’ – the kind of law that gives would-be dictators very broad, open-ended and undefined powers to pretty much what they like.
This Bill applies to health services, fire and rescue services, education services, transport services, decommissioning nuclear installations and radioactive waste, and border security. The first four obviously cover vastly more workers – but exactly how widely those categories they apply is deliberately left vague.
For example, could ‘transport’ apply to a strike in the company that prints Oyster Cards, or in an aircraft factory? The government could potentially do that if it wanted to.
The Bill would….
- Allow the government to set whatever ‘minimum level of service’ it likes on public service workers who are taking strike action. Any workers who breach that minimum level can be sacked. In past and present strikes by health workers, the unions have set a ‘minimum level’ to deal with acute emergencies and protect the most at-risk patients. The purpose of this law is to allow the government to set ‘minimum’ levels that are so high and so general that strikes in public services would become impossible or totally ineffective.
- Allow an employer – such as a railway company or the NHS – to sue a trade union for any loss they suffer because workers didn’t co-operate with the new law. You can imagine the government organising Tory students to sue their universities if there was no teaching, and then the universities could get the money back by suing the teachers’ union.
This is charter for victimisation on a mass scale. It is effectively forcing public service workers to scab on their own strikes. It would be worse than the situation that impelled the trade unions to set up the Labour Party 123 years ago, after a rail company successfully sued a union for the money it lost because of a strike.
Break the Stalemate!
This is a battle for survival between public service workers and the most anti-democratic government in modern British history. If parliament passes this law, and if the government is able to enforce it, it will lead to mass victimisation of union activists, massive job loss, cuts and closures, and even more privatisation, deregulation and profiteering. The public services will end up in the same situation as the care homes – carved up into financial assets for private wealth funds, hedge funds and the rest of the parasitic tax-dodging millionaires and billionaires.
But the government and the billionaires have not won yet. The strikes remain strong and they are growing. Public service workers are in no mood to submit. We are more united than the Tories. We can win. One way or another, the outcome will be decided in action – and that will decide the fate of the Strikes Bill.
The present situation is a stalemate between the government and the public service workers. The Strikes Bill is the government’s plan for breaking that stalemate. The striking workers need their own plan to break the stalemate and win.
For just over a year the public service unions have followed a policy that has been called ‘Lots of small fires everywhere.’ Different unions and different groups of workers in the same unions striking separately on different days and for different periods. The trade union leaders and full-time official devised this plan as a way to manoeuvre round the minefield of anti-union laws, but it has proved inadequate to win more than partial and temporary compromises in local disputes. It is time to throw away the small arms and bring in the artillery.
Unite the strikes – ensuring that strikes are co-ordinated so that there are much large numbers of workers on strike at the same time. Really big conflagrations will have a far more powerful impact than a lot of small fires.
Indefinite strike action – there has already been talk about this in some quarters but it needs to happen now. If several large national trade unions combine to take indefinite, nationwide action – on the railways and post and in education, for example – the balance of power in this class war would immediately swing in favour of the working class. (For the Border Force, which is paid stop or turn back refugees, we recommend an eternal strike!)
No one settles until everyone settles – United we win, divided we fall! The most successful action last year was the dockers’ strike at Felixstowe. They won an above inflation pay rise because most of Britain’s container traffic goes through Felixstowe, meaning that the dockers could strangle much of the economy and damage business profits. By settling that dispute the government reduced the pressure it was under to settle the other disputes. That’s why there needs to be an agreement between some, at least, of the public service unions that they won’t sign-off to an agreement with the employers until they have all secured satisfactory settlements.
“It’s better to break the law than break the poor”
That was a popular slogan during the fight against the Poll Tax at the end of the 1980s. A Tory government had brought in a profoundly unfair system of raising money to fund local services, which fell overwhelmingly on the poorest families. It was estimated that 11 million households refused to pay the tax, or even register for it. There were riots all over the country and collective mobilisations to stop people being evicted or arrested. This was all illegal action – and they won! The prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, had to resign, and the poll tax was scrapped.
The workers are striking to win, so we have to assess the scale of action needed in order to win. The level of action so far has led to a stalemate, a war of attrition, so workers must raise the level of their action – regardless of its legality under the anti-union laws.
That applies with even greater force to the Strikes Bill. Anti-union laws will not be stopped or abolished by this government or any government that is currently conceivable. Those laws will be stopped by collective mass action that makes them unenforceable.
Establish elected workers’ committees in workplaces, localities etc.
It is possible that sufficient pressure from workers in the various unions will compel some of the leaders to agree to unite some of the strikes, or to agree to indefinite strike action. However, that is as far as they will go and some won’t go that far. That isn’t simply because they are worried about breaking the anti-union laws. The general secretaries and full-time officials, even the more left wing & militant of them, can be considered as the management of the trade unions. Like all managers they are professional ‘in-betweeners.’ In a workplace the managers are the intermediaries between the owners and workers; in a trade union the officials are the intermediaries between the members and the employers.
The present struggle is now past the stage where leadership can be left to that union management. This movement needs a more secure base. To achieve that, it is essential that the rank-and-file of the strike movement organises and asserts its authority. We need to build our own leadership in every workplace and every locality. We need to elect strike committees, workplace committees or action committees in all sectors. Even a union leader as popular as Mick Lynch can’t substitute for that – or organise it from above.
These committees should be inter-union bodies wherever strikes involve members of different unions. Striking workers in every locality should set up city-wide or district-wide committees to coordinate action and build community links.
We need rank-and-file leadership because that is the most effective way – often the only way – to build the strong and close connections with local poor and working class communities. That unity between worker & communities, is now more necessary than ever for both sides – to defend public services, by occupations if necessary, and to stop evictions, block immigration raids etc.
MFJ believes we must build Strike-To-Win Committees and is already putting this into practice. STW committees include the elected shop stewards (or equivalent workplace represents) and other worker/activists in the strikes, as well as community supporters, family members, activists in other union groups, local renters’ unions, anti-raids networks, climate crisis groups, refugees, students and other community based-movements – all of whom have a material interest in the success of the current strikes, the defeat of the Strikes Bill and bringing down the government. That is the most effective way to sustain the strikes and support the many new leaders who are becoming active in the strikes and in the wider resistance to the most dangerous government in modern British history.
The rank-and-file must be strong and confident enough to give direction to the ‘official’ leadership – and to act independently. That will only be possible if elected rank-and-file leaders are already working together, have the confidence of their members, and have strong connections with struggles in their communities. There will be many times when victory depends on that.
18 January 2023