Unions start to fight back

Submitted by martin on 26 June, 2002 - 1:48

Solidarity 3/9 - 25th June 2002
Council workers, firefighters, tube workers, train conductors, lecturers, air traffic controllers...
Unions start to fight back
Link the struggles!

Firefighters demonstrate. London local government workers, members of UNISON, strike for two days, and British Museum workers and South Bank University lecturers for one day each. The Tube union RMT prepares to ballot for renewed strike action about privatisation, and local government workers across the country - TGWU and GMB as well as UNISON - ballot for action in a national pay dispute distinct from the London weighting dispute they have struck over.
All that in a space of a week or so. The teachers' union NUT and the postal workers' union CWU also have outstanding grievances in London, though their leaders are delaying action, and the lecturers' union NATFHE nationally. Arriva North railworkers are still in dispute. A spate of strikes at the start of this year, which set the press yelping about a dangerous "rise of the hard left in the unions", were not freak events. Trade-union combativity is beginning to revive.
Slow and patchy? Yes. Facing challenges such as the "coup" attempted by the old Cold War right wing in the civil servants' union PCS? Yes. Mostly limited to public services, and a fair bit of it limited to London? That too. Much of it focused on pay, and some of the action on broader issues like privatisation and jobs restricted to shows of protest? Admittedly.
Yet the revival is real. The "new realist" dogma according to which strikes were out of date, and unions' true job was to "add value" to businesses through "partnership", assist individual grievances, and purvey sideline services, has been shown not to be "realistic" at all. Confidence and experience won in struggles over pay is vital underpinning for any wider working-class action, beyond conferences and lobbies by an activist minority, over such issues as privatisation.
Working-class resistance on basic issues such as pay is the A of the socialist alphabet. The B is solidarity, generalisation, linking up. The Tube workers' union RMT has already written that letter B by planning its first day of renewed strikes about privatisation for 17 July, the same day as local government workers strike on their national pay claim.
Activists in other unions are working towards a unified day of industrial action, by several different unions, in September.
C in that alphabet is rank-and-file democracy - renewing and reorganising the unions. That is beginning to happen, too. Trade unionists are learning a new vocabulary - and so must socialists. Too many of us have allowed too much to seep into us from the years of record-low trade-union combativity. Time to re-learn!

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