By Terry Williams
The unions’ fight back against the attacks on living standards, have extended into this year. Already rail workers, civil servants and others have been taking action. This month (January) nurses, ambulance drivers, teachers in Scotland and bus drivers have also planned strike days and the results of ballots of teachers (NEU and NASUWT), firefighters (FBU) and junior doctors (BMA) will announced shortly. In addition there is further industrial action likely in a number of other unresolved disputes, including postal workers.
It is estimated that more than 1.4 million working days were lost to strikes in December 2022. That is the highest monthly total since July 1989, over 30 years ago. For many workers this is the first time they have ever taken action. There is a growing awareness amongst workers of the importance of trade unions.
There is broad public support for those workers who are taking industrial action and significant blame for the strikes is being attributed to the Tory government, which is the party to blame as in most of these disputes it is the government that has ultimate control over the negotiations. It has been directing the employers to make no concessions and is unwilling to even discuss pay levels with the unions. It does not to want to resolve the disputes through discussion and has even sabotaged the negotiations between the rail industry and RMT that were advancing at the end of last year.
The Tory government has now announced plans to legislate to remove workers’ current rights to strike. It is proposing a new law that would force some workers to work on strike days, to provide what it deems an appropriate ‘minimum service level’. Eight sectors of work will be covered in this new legislation: railways, fire service, ambulances, education, border security, nuclear decommissioning, other health services and other transport services. The full details of this and any other proposed additional attacks on the right to strike will be known when the changes to the legislation are fully published.
The Labour leadership have shifted from their initial position and are now saying that a Labour government would repeal this anti-strike bill if it becomes law. Other political parties should be pressed to also make the same commitment. Plus within the Labour Party it will be necessary to campaign to ensure this new commitment is not abandoned, as the Labour leadership has a reputation for dropping many of its previous pledges.
Labour movement and other progressive activists should step up their activity in support of this growing anti-austerity struggle. Some of the key actions that should be taken are:
1) Attend picket lines and make supportive contacts with those on strike. For information on where picket lines are visit StrikeMap.
2) Share information that corrects the misinformation being promoted by the media, such as the false claim that fair wages would cause inflation, challenged for example in this New Statesman article here.
4) Promote and attend the People’s Assembly Conference on Saturday 14 January (11am until 4.30pm) at Friends Meeting house, 173 -177 Euston Rd, London, NW1 2BJ. Further details available here and book a place here.