Thursday, May 21, 2015

Defend Our Unions

Sajid Javid, the Business Secretary, has announced that any strike affecting public services, such as health, transport, fire services or schools will need to be backed by 40% of eligible union members, and that minimum 50% turnout in strike ballots. Also planned is the repeal of restrictions on using temporary staff to cover for striking workers so that "scab labour" can be used to break strikes.

Have you ever had to go on strike? Many of us have. Sometimes it’s the only way we can win a decent wage. Sometimes it’s to fight back against working conditions that are going from bad to worse. Other times it’s necessary to defend a co-worker who’s been treated unfairly. Whatever the case, there are plenty of problems workers face that can force us out on strike. None of us want to lose money or even risk losing our jobs but a strike is often the only weapon we have to fight for our economic rights. Whenever workers walk out, public opinion is immediately whipped up against the strikers by the media. The employers go to courts to pass injunctions and the police hinder the effectiveness of a picket-line. Indignant politicians make loud demands for tougher antistrike laws. This barrage of anti-strike propaganda shows how many weapons employers have at their disposal. Rarely do the media dare denounce capitalists for refusing to meet workers’ demands. No court injunctions are issued when capitalists “go on strike” and close down factories, or make workers redundant. But the one weapon workers have—the right to strike—is constantly under attack.

If government or local authority workers are involved then the industrial action is described as a “strike against the public.” The striking workers are blamed for every problem that arises. Every citizen is expected to support the government and local officials in their efforts to get the strikers to capitulate. Yet it is those the same politicians and councilors who denounce “strikes against the public”, who’ve been conducting the school and hospital closures, cutting back on the local social and emergency services. They don’t take the blame for “inconveniencing the public.” In fact, they defend hardships they cause as being “in everyone’s interest.” The special attacks constantly being made on the right of government workers to strike are just stepping stones to attacks on all workers. Public sector employees aren’t the only ones who perform vital functions. Every industry and every social service—food, housing, transportation, etc.—is run by workers. The fact that many jobs are important is no reason for denying basic rights to the people who do them. If that excuse can be used against public sector employees, it can soon be used against everyone.

This whole drive to curb the right to strike is a step toward disarming workers in their struggle for economic survival. The overwhelming majority of people have only their labour power to sell and they survive by selling it to the employing class. If they give up the elementary right to withhold that labour or bargain for a better price or better conditions, they become little more than slaves. No one “enjoys” strikes, least of all workers and their families who lose income while capitalists live off past profits and big bank balances. Strikes, at best, are defensive actions. People with empty bellies up against those with fat wallets. To really get to the heart of our economic problems, we have to change the whole economic system that repeatedly forces us to fight for a decent living. This is the goal of the Socialist Party. Factories, mines, mills, offices and farms will be socially owned by all of us in common instead of privately owned by a few or in the hands of the State. All the workplaces are run cooperatively and democratically by the workers themselves.  Production is carried on to meet peoples’ needs instead of for profit. Building a movement for this kind of economy would also provide the best defence of the few rights we have now—like the right to strike. A strong socialist movement would make it impossible for capitalism to take our rights away. Defend the right to strike by helping to build that socialist movement!


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