It’s time for the Royal College of Nursing to


to save the NHS

to defeat this Tory government

and to defend all public services

When the Royal College of Nursing went on strike in December last year for the first time in its existence, it was a momentous event not only in its own history, but in the history of the National Health Service (NHS) and the development of the current strike movement. It signalled the depth of the crisis facing our public services under the current Tory government and the urgency of the fight to save the NHS. 

RCN members in Scotland and then, in April, in England electrified the strike movement and shook the government again, by rejecting completely inadequate offers and returning to strike action. That encouraged similar decisions by NHS workers in Unite and RCN members in Wales. And in another ‘first’ the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health has started a 3-day strike on the first day of the RCN Congress, to be followed by three more days in the following week.  

The launching of the NHS by the post-war Labour government in 1948, with its promise of health care “Free at the point of delivery” was central, along the massive expansion of subsidised public housing, to Labour’s Welfare State promise of security “From the Cradle to Grave.” The Tories voted against the creation of the NHS, but by 1951, when they squeaked back into government, it was so popular, even with middle-class Tory voters, that they didn’t dare to touch it (for similar reasons they maintained and expanded public housing). 

It was only with the election of Margaret Thatcher and the defeat of the unions in the ‘80s that the Tories felt able to attack the NHS and public housing, but with the NHS they moved very slowly. They knew that the NHS was the most treasured institution in the UK – and it still is today. 

That is why the health-workers’ strikes have the highest popularity rating of all the public-sector strikes. Millions of people across British society understand that if this government can inflict a defeat on health workers, the NHS will be finished. The initials might be incorporated in the logos of various private companies, but everything the institution stands for will be dead.

The current government wants complete privatisation of health-care, with hospitals, ambulance services, GPs’ practices, etc., becoming mere financial assets and articles of trade to increase the profits of some of the world’s most unscrupulous parasites. We know what that means because it has already happened to the care home sector. It means less security, even worse conditions and lower pay, it means deteriorating standards of treatment, and it inevitably means more abuse.

The NHS strikes are far more than ordinary trade union struggles. They are a social and political struggle. That requires clear aims and strategy and strong allies. Fortunately, our strikes are part of a broad, developing, and popular struggle across the public services.

The new workers’ movement

The ongoing wave of strikes across the public services is the most powerful and effective opposition to the present government and its policies. All those strikes are social and political struggles. They are challenging not just the current government, but the whole course of economic policy since 2010, and they have revived and rebuilt a trade union movement that had been in decline for nearly 40 years. Our strike movement has already dealt significant blows to government policies and plans – but most of all we have changed Britain. We – millions of striking workers and community supporters – are the real opposition to this vicious government. 

The Movement for Justice (MFJ) was established as an anti-racist, immigrant rights and civil rights organisation. Our membership is overwhelmingly made up of first or second generation immigrants and refugees and includes long-standing trade union activists. This has put us in a good position to appreciate and respond to the dynamism of what is effectively a new labour movement. 

The working class in Britain has never been as multiracial, multinational and integrated as it is now, and the frontline activists in most of the strikes are part of a young generation that is the most integrated element in British society. We are not tied to the bureaucratic routines and sectional divisions of an older generation of trade unionists, and we are not weighed down by the defeats those routines and divisions led to.

MFJ makes those statements because we, the strike movement, need to understand the totality of our power and achievements – the ‘big picture’ of what we have accomplished. We have to understand the nature and extent of our power in order to build on our achievements and win real victory.    

How the strength of the strike movement has grown

Our strike movement really began in the latter part of 2021, when the return of inflation began to tip many low-paid workers into deeper poverty. It started with rail strikes and the long struggle of Coventry refuse workers, and it has grown, expanded, and become more powerful from then on. As the cost of living continues to rise and undermine the standard of living of even relatively better paid workers, it has drawn in a wider range of public sector workers and aroused ever-broader community support. 

Last year the government thought it could whip up public opposition to the strikes, especially from middle class people, so it slandered the unions and the workers and it refused to negotiate. That policy completely backfired. The strikes won massive public support. They have roused the hopes and morale of communities across the country, especially working class, struggling middle class, and black & Asian communities. 

Millions of people have suffered the dire effects of government austerity policies since 2010. They have seen the public services they rely on trashed and privatised at an increasing rate. They have lived and worked through the most disastrous mishandling of the Covid-19 pandemic of any government in Europe. They have seen the corruption and cronyism at the heart of government, and now they are trying to cope with the worst inflation in any major economy, along with the economic wreckage of Brexit.  

No wonder they welcome the strikes as the real defence of public services. No wonder the strike movement is the main reason for them to have hope for a better future. Those millions of people know it is the policies of successive Tory governments – not the nurses, doctors, train drivers and other workers – that are responsible for the lengthening waiting lists and all the growing problems they experience with the public services.

Each new attack from the government has strengthened that support. Every horn honked, every thumbs-up, every expression of solidarity that has encouraged workers on picket lines and demonstrations has been a political act, a blow to the government. That support has sustained the whole strike movement – and together, strikers and community, they forced the government to the negotiating tables.

Most of the outcomes of negotiation have been disappointing, with pay rises below the inflation of food and energy prices and rents, but there have been many cases where groups of workers – dockers, refuse collectors, bus drivers, Scottish RCN and GMB members, Network Rail workers – have won some significant concessions or backed management off some new attack, certainly more than they would have got without determined strike action, and often after rejecting a series of earlier offers.

Those workers are learning from experience and are ready to take up the struggle again. And since a victory for one is a victory for all, they have given hope to public service workers in other disputes.

How the government has been weakened

The constant and growing challenge of our strike movement has dramatically weakened the authority and limited the power of the government.     

The government cannot respond to this challenge in any constructive way. It resorts to more heavy-handed repression, it brings in more laws to take our rights away (many of which it won’t be able to implement or won’t get through Parliament before a general election), and it hypes up the ‘culture wars’ rhetoric with more inhuman cruelty towards refugees and immigrants, more racism, and more homophobia and transphobia. 

Those responses are proving counter-productive and increase the tensions and divisions in the government, and between the government and other sections of the ruling class.

The Tories are stuck with these responses because they are stuck with Brexit. These are the ideologies the Tory right wing used to “Get Brexit Done” and push through more austerity and privatisation, but they are no longer working for the Tories. The majority of people in Britain, including many who voted for Brexit, recognise that it has been an unmitigated disaster that made them poorer and made their lives more difficult. Now, crucially, they have a resistance movement, a cause for hope, in our strike movement. 

Our strikes are bringing about a real shift in the balance of power between, on the one hand, working class, poor & oppressed people, and, on the other hand, the divided government and divided ruling class. It is the first significant, sustained shift in that balance of power for more than 50 years. In the late 1970s & early ‘80s, it was a shift in favour of the rich and powerful. It heralded the era of constant de-regulation, privatisation, so-called free markets, welfare cuts for the poor, tax cuts for the rich, etc. 

Those policies have broken down and become a block on any real progress. That crisis has pushed the Tories towards more extreme racist measures, authoritarianism, and to some extent towards fascism. That has produced the new and powerful resistance – our strike movement, sustained and growing for a year and a half – and as a result the balance of power is moving in our favour. 

The lessons of the English local elections

The recent local elections in England are a testimony to this change. They were largely held in the most favourable areas for the Tories. There were no council elections in Scotland, Wales, Greater London, or several major English cities – they were mostly in smaller towns and suburban or rural areas with more elderly populations. Despite that, the Tories lost over 1000 council seats that were up for election, and Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens made big gains – simply because they were not Tories and, in any particular contest, they were the candidates most likely to beat the Tories. 

In addition, there was a complete wipe-out of the small number of far-right candidates for UKIP, Brexit fanatic Nigel Farage’s former party, and Reform UK, the group he is now linked to. It is most likely that their supporters voted for the Tories.

This may seem a trivial detail – but look back to the Brexit campaign when Farage was riding high and the 2019 EU election when UKIP got the biggest share of the vote in Britain. Recall the period when Boris Johnson was Prime Minister and the Tories were in fear of the growth of UKIP – when some Tory MPs were talking about an alliance with Farage and Johnson needed to get assurances of his support. 

And remember how depressing it was during the height of the Covid pandemic, when assorted fascists, right-wing conspiracy theorists, and anti-vaxxers were out on the streets and even outside hospitals, calling Covid a hoax. Remember how nurses, doctors and the Chief Medical Officer of England faced physical harassment and attacks.

Brexit has been a disaster, but why haven’t the Faragists and fascists seized on that to blame the mess on the government for supposedly making too many concessions to the EU and the banks. That has been the Tories’ fear in the recent past. It would not be rational, but Covid should have taught us that fear and uncertainty can make people act irrationally. 

Our movement is the reason why that isn’t happening now. Workers across the public sector have pushed the trade union leaderships to organise strike action, and that has grown into our present strike movement, which has won mass community support, based on rational hope. That is a victory for reason over irrationality, a shift to the left and the basis of the shift in the balance of power.

Organise to win! Strike to win!

Our strike movement is at a turning point. That is chiefly because the opportunities to win substantial victories against the government are more realisable, as a result of the shift we have created in the balance of power between our movement and the Tory government’s deepening internal crisis (even today, 13/05/23, the right-wing backers of Boris Johnson in the Conservative Democracy Group have held a conference and launched a bitter attack on the current leadership).

The same opportunities, however, mean that we can’t wait any longer to address the problems that have already held us back from achieving all we could. The principal problems are:   

  • The recurrence in nearly all the striking unions of a procedure for which there is no legal requirement and very little precedent in trade union practice: calling off strike action the moment the government or employer offers to negotiate – just when the union most needs to keep up the pressure.
  • The on-again off-again character of most strikes, calling strikes in different areas at different times, the low number of strike days in most unions – this policy of ‘little fires everywhere’ is more like a strategy for publicity than a strategy for victory.
  • The lack of coordinated strike action; despite all the ‘strike together’ talk in the early months of the strike-wave, it has rarely happened and then for special occasions like 1 February and 15 March – those have been great and tremendously powerful events where the movement can see itself, but they are not sufficient to win.

That method of conducting the struggle is determined by the top leaders and full-time officials of the unions – the managerial layer of the trade unions, who are long-time, weak, routinist bureaucrats, out of touch with the dynamism of their memberships and the communities who have so strongly supported the strike wave. They are, in effect, a pro-management managerial layer of the trade unions, who see themselves as managers of their members whose main job is to be a transmission belt of management policies to their unions, not fighters for their rank and file. They have come to view their regular connections with the state and other managements as making them a part of the same elite. Their identification with the government and capitalist managements that exploit and oppress their memberships has made them historically incapable of leading a real fight for the organised labour movement that they ostensibly head. They share the same disability with the political leadership of the Labour Party on which they impotently rely. 

Almost all these Labour tops share this same disability, whether or not they are affiliated to Labour – and regardless of any nasty things that leaders like Sharon Graham of Unite and Mike Lynch of the RMT say publicly about the present Labour leadership. 

All the pressure for action and all the dynamism in action has come from the rank-and-file membership. In nearly all cases the campaigns to reject unacceptable offers have been initiated by rank-and-file activists who are close to thinking of the mass of union members because they work with them share the same problems. And in every case, even in the few cases where national leaders have called for rejection, it is those rank and file activists who have done the real work of getting the vote out.

The most urgent task now is for rank-and-file activists to assert their authority and take control of the strikes. For that to happen there must be an organised campaign to set up elected action committees or strike committees, on an inter-union basis where possible, in every hospital, clinic, school, bus garage and other public service workplace, and to hold all-member meetings as often as possible during strikes.

Networks of these committees should consolidate connections and support in their local communities, replace current weak routinist national leaders and full-time officials where possible, and prepare to act independently when that becomes necessary.

The central purpose of these democratic rank-and-file bodies can be stated simply and is sure to be popular: Strike to Win and Defeat the Tory Government and Bring It Down.                

To achieve real victory, we need national all out indefinite strike action and extended strikes if that is not possible, we need more active mobilisation of community support, and we need strikes to be coordinated at least across sectors, such as the NHS, the education system (where it is essential to mobilise and organise together with students), the Royal Mail and postal services, and the public transport system. 

Now is the time to build those action committees, create new leadership to realise the potential of our powerful strike movement, deepen and broaden the connections and support for this new labour movement in our communities, and adopt a consistent policy of coordinated strikes. With the courage and determination of rank and file workers and community supporters committed to these policies, our strike-wave struggle can truly win. We really can save the NHS and all our public services. We really can defeat and bring down this crumbling racist Tory government. We really can renew the struggle for the humane, democratic, and equal Britain the British people deserve and increasingly crave. 



07.02.2023 – Picket line at St Georges’ Hospital

Save the NHS

Defend Public Education: end the hated SATS system

Fight for art, music, and drama and extra-curricular programs

Reverse Brexit

End all racist police brutality and fascist attacks against our black, Asian, Muslim, and immigrant communities 

All-out indefinite strike action

Strike to Win 

On 1 February, 500,000 strikers led by the teachers’ unions and joined by tens of thousands of other striking workers, took to the streets of major cities and small towns. The teachers call for a national day of strike action to win a pay raise, to stop the government’s Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill, and to save education was joined by students and community supporters eager to join what felt more like a celebration of the power of Britain’s working class and oppressed and less like another day of union strike actions. This was a rare day in the maelstrom of huge strikes that began in the late summer of 2022, because it was one of the tiny number of strikes in which strikers from a single sector of public workers were unified and fighting together. 300,000 teachers from every level of education starting with primary schools and continuing up to  university teachers from 150 universities across Britain were acting on the founding principles of trade unions: unity, solidarity and power in numbers. 

The wall-to-wall teachers’ strike was joined by 100,000 public sector workers, rail and transport workers, and other strikers. There were special rallies embedded in the day of strike action to protest the government’s union-busting Strike (Minimum Staffing) Bill written specifically to stop the strike wave that is electrifying the UK. 

In London, a spirited and defiant demonstration of 40,000 people led by teachers started their rally at Portland Place and then marched to Downing Street. Throughout the day, professionally made union banners and flags including a lead banner saying “Save Our Schools, Children Deserve Better” could be seen flying high and proud. Students of all ages and community supporters carried tens of thousands of homemade placards in support of all the strikes. The overwhelming popular support for the strikes is based on the common understanding that the government is responsible for the hyperinflation that is instituting pay cuts, and its attacks on the NHS, Education, the Rails and all public sector jobs must stop now.

Less than a week after the February 1 Day of Action, nurses and other NHS workers in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland held the biggest days of strike action in the 75-year history of the NHS. These strikes were just as euphoric, exhilarating, powerful, and popular as the teachers’ national day of strike action. In the next few months there will be an array of new strike action. The six-month strike-wave that has been sweeping the country has the potential to unite and change Britain forever. We are speaking for the great majority of people who hate the Tories and want to see them defeated.

The government’s declaration of war against our strikes

Our strikes are not typical trade union struggles. Despite the claims of our top union leaders, the government, and the press that our strikes are only about winning a pay increase, our strikes are inherently a political challenge to the program of the government.

Every one of our strikes is objectively both an economic and political fight. Every victory for our side is a defeat of the government’s austerity and privatization policies. Every wage increase we win that keeps us ahead of inflation makes it possible for the 47,000 openings for NHS nurses and the tens of thousands teacher vacancies to be filled. Winning pay increases and increased staffing levels for striking NHS workers, teachers, and other public sector workers will be a blow to the government’s austerity and privatization efforts. Winning safe working conditions and pay increases for rail workers, ambulance drivers, firefighters, bus drivers, refuse workers and all other striking workers whose lives are being placed in jeopardy every day, will make clear that government’s murderous COVID-19, immigration, and policing policies will no longer be tolerated and must end now. 

Our strikes are strong, but to beat the government we need to create a broader movement that gets our passive supporters and other activists into the streets fighting with us.We have broad public support that can be mobilized and strengthen our strikes. We are fighting for our patients, students, passengers, and anyone who benefits from the public sector. Right now, as a matter of fact, our union struggles for health workers are struggles to save the NHS and the healthcare of the overwhelming majority of the people of the UK, which the current government is attacking. Right now, as a matter of fact, the struggle to win a better contract for fire brigades is a struggle to prevent entire blocks of houses from  burning down. However, those broader political and social demands are being left implicit. In a situation in which the stakes are so high, these demands must be made explicit. 

Women demonstrate against closure at South London Women’s Hospital (1984-85)

This means that under these conditions, the current demands of our strikes are too narrow. We need to place demands on the government that go beyond contract demands and present our struggles explicitly for what they really are: struggles to save the NHS and  the other essential public institutions we are defending. If we start fighting for the reforms we need to win to assure the survival of the NHS and to improve education, our strikes will be transformed into a bigger, stronger movement that can defeat the government’s plans to privatize the public sector or chop away services from the NHS and the other public institutions whose services are essential for the majority of the people of the UK to lead a decent human life. 

We can draw students and youth into our movement if we include the demands to improve education that young people are passionate about. Ending SATS and creating more academic and extracurricular programs are two demands that students will fight for and can be won through our teachers’ strikes. Students organized their own strikes prior to the pandemic to fight for policies to stop global heating. A joint struggle of all the education unions and student unions would scare the pants off of many government MP’s. All of modern history has shown that a fundamental rule of thumb for any serious mass struggle is that the role of youth is essential to the possibility of victory.

We have already marched to defeat the government’s new Strike Bill. But that is not enough to kill the bill. All of the striking unions should make the government withdraw its new pending Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill. In reality, it is part and parcel of a whole series of new laws designed to attack the whole range of the democratic rights of the whole working class. All of these reactionary, anti-democratic, proto-fascist laws that are now before Parliament or have already been passed by Parliament are being fought against by community members who support our strike. These attacks on basic human rights range from giving police unlimited powers to commit crimes, including murder, without suffering any consequences, to locking refugees in new detention centers/concentration camps. 

If we stand together and fight jointly, our strike will be much more difficult to defeat, and we will be able to defeat some or all of the government’s repressive and dangerous laws. If we take up the demands of campaigns against police brutality and defending the rights of immigrant communities and asylum seekers and the whole Tory integrated and intertwined proposals to foster racism and anti immigrant bigotry we can build a united movement committed to winning equality, respect, dignity, and justice for the working class, the poor, and the oppressed. 

Defeating one or more of the Tories’ policies will inspire more people to join our fight. We can defeat the ability of the government to institute any aspects of their plan to privatize the public sector. Every victory we score against the government will literally preserve human lives. We know how ruthless and indifferent to life this government is. We have witnessed and are still witnessing the needless deaths of thousands of people because of the government’s put-profits-before-people COVID-19 policy. 

Our strikes and the movement we help build are the fight for a future that is far better than what exists today. Our union members and the students, patients, commuters and communities we serve are the lifeblood of this society. Our lives are intimately intertwined with the different communities we serve. We know we are fighting for so much more than pay raises. We just need to make that explicit by placing demands on the government that must be met for us to settle our strikes.

The sooner we take the steps we need to win, the better. Time is a friend of the government and an enemy of ours. The longer, more drawn out our strikes become, the greater the chance of demoralization and scabbing on our strike. If the support of the community is based on building a movement together, our support will stay strong for longer. If community support is based solely on supporting our contract fight, it will tend to wane more if it feels to some people it is taking too much time for us to make headway. We have taken on a big responsibility. We need a winning battle plan that ends in victory. We have the power to win. Our problem is we have too many leaders afraid of our power. Therefore, in order to win, we are going to need some new leaders to step forward who are not afraid of winning. 

Strike to Win

In the coming weeks, there will be many national, regional and local strike days, and although these struggles are important to maintain our movement, in their current limited form, they will lose in immediate terms. The strikes are too short, sporadic, infrequent, drawn-out, fragmented and uncoordinated. The on-again-off-again strike dates, the local and regional schedule of partial one day actions of different teachers, NHS, rail, and other union strikes, make it impossible to follow which union is on strike on any given day and to know what services will be affected. The Guardian, The Scotsman and other media sources regularly publish strike calendar spreadsheets to explain who, where, and which workers are on strike. These strike calendars are constantly revised. The strikes that do take place are primarily used to get the government to return to the bargaining table. In most cases, as soon as bargaining begins again, strike action is indefinitely suspended. This means that the government, not the unions, is controlling who, when, and where strike actions will take place. The policy of one-day rolling strikes that divides strikers in the same union into small and weak brigades of an army that could win fighting as one is, to put it mildly, crazy and stupid.

We cannot continue to engage in these losing tactics. The basic premise of trade unions is that there is strength in numbers. The two principles that every union is built on are unity and solidarity. But now when we need to be acting on those founding principles, our union tops are rejecting them for no good reason.

We need to use our numeric strength to win. We need all-out indefinite strikes by each of the unions to win. We need to demand that every one of our union leaders call for all-out strikes of each of their unions. We need to remove the roadblocks that our union tops, who are managers of each of their respective union’s bureaucracies and privately empathize more with our bosses than they do with us, are putting in the way of our strikes. We need to demand that TUC leader Nowak, who is the dutiful lapdog of the Labour Party, which is opposed to our strikes, step down now. Anyone who supports Nowak’s anti-labour, pro-government strategy to our strike action is our enemy. The last thing we need is a traitor leading the TUC. 

The strikes of education workers led by the teachers and teaching assistants provide an example of how to squander our power and passion to win. We know that the teachers’ strikes are popular and well-organized, but are achieving next to nothing because of their flawed tactics. Teachers in Scotland just finished sixteen days of continuous rolling strikes which ended without a better contract settlement. University teachers have already carried out strike actions. They want to wage a national all-out strike but are being prevented from doing so by General Secretary Jo Grady. The union is 70,000 strong and represents teachers at 150 universities throughout the UK. There are 2.6 million university students. In November, the National Union Of Students (NUS) endorsed the University teachers’ strike. The NUS is campaigning for free education, available to all, including every community member regardless of age, formal qualifications and availability to take classes in person. It is seeking larger student stipends so that working-class, poor, black, immigrant, and asylum seeker students can get a university education without the mental health problems these students face because of their economic status.

The university teachers’ strikes are planned for three days a week during the month of February. The university teachers’ strikes, which are the largest strikes in the history of higher education, provide students with the vehicle they need to win their demands. Both university teachers and students have the same goals and meet the economic demands needed for both teachers and students to flourish and improve and broaden access to higher education. If they unite and strike together in an all-out indefinite strike, everyone could win. Right now, the limited demands, intermittent character of and needlessly enforced isolation of the University teachers’ strike, are diminishing the power of the strike and setting it up to fail.

The strike strategy of our union leaders makes us look weak and scared. We can not win if we continue to follow the agreed-upon, losing tactics of leaders of each and every union. Obviously, if  our aim is to win quickly, every union should be participating in coordinated strikes, so we shut down Britain and keep it shut down until every union wins.

We have been given two reasons for the intermittent, fractured tactics for conducting our strikes. The first is that we should believe in the infantile Christmas Eve strategy. If we are good, respectful workers, then we will wake up and see that the government has collapsed and granted our demands. This is about as likely to happen as Father Christmas shimmying down a chimney with a sack full of gifts. The second is that patients, parents, commuters will continue to support us if our strikes cause minimal disruptions. This makes no sense, first because anyone that relies on one of our striking institutions would prefer that we have settled on all-out strike dates, and that teachers, nurses or rail workers will take indefinite strike action together throughout the UK to win quickly. It is much easier to arrange collective babysitters and/or teacher-run strike schools in libraries or churches than it is to scramble for childcare on a strike day that may not occur. 

The NHS is the beloved crown jewel of the British social welfare state.The aim of our strikes is to strengthen and preserve it. In the 1980’s when the government was carrying out a series of hospital closings and other attacks on the NHS, nurses led hospital occupations and, with the help of doctors and other staff, ran the facilities themselves. The workers escorted managers out the door, fortified the entrances to the hospitals so that the police could not break their occupation/ strike. Ambulance workers and other hospitals coordinated services with the occupied hospitals to assure that patients were kept safe and received the care they needed. The attacks we are facing now are much larger and more dangerous. We have an answer to the government’s anti-union Strike Bill: keep the hospitals open under worker control. Our strikes that are walkouts have a great deal of public support. If our strikes become occupations, they will galvanize and inspire the nation. The rank and file NHS workers who know how to run health care must take charge of our strikes so that we can implement a winning strategy for our strikes.

We must elect rank-and-file workers’ leaders to negotiate our contracts

Our current bargaining process is a charade. Our union bosses set new strike dates every month to initiate more bargaining sessions with the government. The government negotiators are intransigent. Our so-called leaders drop our demands the moment they sit at the bargaining table. They are always prepared to capitulate.

Days or weeks go by and nothing is accomplished. At some point, the government decides to shut down the free-lunch- joint-management-banter-sessions and demands that union members revote on a reshuffled version of the contract offer which they already rejected. This  preposterous charade ends with the union managers stating that they are “disappointed” that the government is so insensitive and did not offer more and then they usually try to shove the contract down their members’ throats. Like every other boss, the union managers expect workers to never question management decisions and do what they are told. On occasion, the union managers do not make a recommendation on the settlement, especially when they know that they lose their authority and influence with their members if they try to orchestrate a yes vote that has no chance of winning. During the time period that union members are voting, a government minister/ blowhard bully lies, claiming he/she will not return to the bargaining table. This theatrical production, sponsored by the government, which we have seen too many times already, can be easily defeated.

The NHS struggle in Scotland shows how to beat the blustering government ministers. The last round of NHS negotiations in Scotland, which began last summer, and continued into late November and early December, involved a number of NHS unions bargaining together. However, these unions did not strike together. The unity they shared at the bargaining table was undercut by their leaderships’ obsequious posture before the government. Unison and Unite’s poorly paid unskilled NHS workers voted for the contract, which allegedly will give them a 7.5% raise.  

Three unions, the RCN, the GMB and the RCM (midwives union) members overwhelmingly rejected the contract. SNP Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care, Humza Yousaf, responded to the no vote of nurses, ambulance drivers, and midwives by puffing out his chest and publicly declaring that he would impose the new contract on all the NHS workers. His dictatorial declaration was quickly defeated by the nurses and ambulance drivers and midwives, who refused to accept his sweeping anti-union pronouncement. The RNC and GMB simply set new dates for strike action in January. This was a victory for the unions.

Unfortunately, this victory was squandered when the RCN canceled the January strike dates because Yousaf backed off his threat and returned to bargaining.

The bus drivers showed how it was possible to resist the strong-arm tactics of their union managers and make sure their bargaining charade ended. After their union bosses tried every scurrilous trick they could think of to engineer a yes vote on a bad contract, the bus drivers turned down the contract twice.

There are only so many times that anyone can watch a bad play. We need the rank and file members of every union to take the bold step the Abellio bus drivers took. Our strikes are about winning wage increases, but they are about so much more. Every one of the ongoing strikes poses the same question: who will decide what the UK looks like a year from now. We can not let the Tories win. We need our strike movement to humiliate them and force them to back off their policies and resign in shame.

Save Britain from the rising tide of fascism

We are in a fight for our lives and for the promise of hope we owe to the next generation.

Our movement must use its power to shift the balance of power now and take control over determining and implementing the political policies we know will save Britain. If our strikes lose and our movement has no other plans to keep the struggle moving forward, then the Tories will move quickly to implement the laws they are passing to crush union rights, to eviscerate democracy and diversity, and to give the police unlimited powers needed to create an authoritarian one-party government in Britain. If the Tories succeed, war is on our national agenda.

The Tories’plan to exploit their control of Parliament now to do what Mussolini’s fascists did in Italy and the Nazis did in Germany and Italy, manipulate ostensibly democratic processes and institutions to create a fascist government. Mussolini and Hitler did not come to power through a coup. They assumed positions of power on the basis of the supposedly democratic constitutions of Italy and Germany, and then used those positions to create “legal” dictatorships. On the basis of these “constitutional” processes, they used their parties’ domination of Parliament to empower police, the military, the SS, border patrol, intelligence, and secret service agents etc. to crush all dissent and opposition. The fascists never could have won in Italy or Germany if the mass actions of workers and other oppressed people had crushed them when they were weak and unpopular. If months of mass actions fail to resolve the hyperinflation and economic crisis because they have lost because of bad leadership, the ideology of racism, immigrant-bashing, sexism, anti-LGBT+ and white nationalism can triumph. We are in a position to stop this from happening now while the Tories are divided amongst themselves and hated by the majority or people of the UK. 

Our union misleaders have a different policy for defeating the government. Their aim is to replace the current government with a Labour government. This means in all likelihood waiting for the next elections in 2025. They assume that every victory for the current government increases the chances of a Labour parliamentary victory in the next election. But if we wait until 2025 to defeat this government, it will be too late. If the Tories have the next two years to establish a fascist regime, then it is highly unlikely that new elections will take place. 

The other road to a new quick election would hypothetically be a general strike. The Labour Party opposes our strikes and our union managers are so scared of the power we possess that they are fighting to lose – not win. If we take control of our strikes, then we can force the Tories to accept a partial or total defeat, which could lead to the resignation of the government. Everything rests on what the movement can win. And that in turn means we need new leaders to take control of our strikes and to lead our movement to victory.

Join Movement for Justice

The aim of the Movement for Justice is to develop new leaders.

The working class and oppressed must win and win quickly. But that means we need new leaders to come forward. For most of us, becoming a leader is not a choice, it is a necessity. We lead because there is no other way to win. Being a leader is nothing more than the task someone assumes as a part of the division of labor that is required to make it possible for our organizations and movement to win. 



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

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