By Matt Begley
The ruling class project of ‘Americanising’ the British economy and society has become explicit in recent days. The project itself is not confined to the attack on real wages and living standards. It also includes anti-strike legislation, further privatisation especially of the NHS, a roll-back of efforts to tackle climate change, renewed deregulation of the City of London, and whipping up a frenzy against migrants and refugees to act as a distraction.
Naturally, no-one implies that ‘Americanisation’ means British wages rising to US levels. That would not be much of a threat. Instead, it means matching all of the (unfortunately successful) attacks on workers and the oppressed made from the Reagan period onwards. This has now culminated in ‘union Joe’ Biden and the entirety of the Congressional Democrats outlawing rail strikes!
At the same time the pace of these attacks is quickening, the wave of strikes is broadening and becoming increasingly synchronised. The government provoked the strikes with wage offers amounting to huge real pay cuts in the public sector. Ministers also admit they have intervened in negotiations and their purpose is to prevent settlements.
As defeating the strikes is central to the government’s overall project, objectively these struggles have taken on a political character. That is now becoming more explicit as the government direction of management tactics has become more blatant. The leadership of the RMT and the RCN both called for talks directly with ministers, clearly showing who is really in charge of the employers’ side of the negotiation.
All of this takes place against a background of growing militancy and widening of the strike action. According to the Financial Times, December will see the greatest number of strike days since 1989. Clearly, there is some way to go before there is anything like the level of action seen in the greater miners’ strike of 1984-85, as shown in the chart below.
Even so, this is far in advance of anything that has been seen in the last three decades. There is too a greater co-ordination of the strikes themselves.
As the disputes continue into the new year, there will be a growing requirement for strikers and their families to rely on donations to strike funds. This should now be an urgent priority of the labour movement, along with expressions of solidarity on picket lines, mass meetings and demos.
There will be no help in any of this from the Labour leadership. In the space of a few days, it managed to match virtually all of the Tory attacks, whether on refusing nurses a pay rise, committing to more privatisation in the NHS (which Tory ministers have generally been cautious about publicly advocating) and refusing to commit to repeal any new anti-union legislation.
This reached a new abysmally low point with the Shadow health secretary, Wes Streeting, promising ‘war’ on hostile trade unions. This in effect places the Labour leadership to the right of the Tories, who have been cautious on this and preferred to falsely claim they are open to talks.
But the public is overwhelmingly on the side of the strikers. In a testament to the skilful media campaign of the RMT and Mick Lynch, support for the striking rail workers is even greater than it is for nurses. This degree of popular support, and willingness to blame the government for the disputes is almost unprecedented in the modern era.
By increasing the co-ordination of the strikes, unions have been able to push the government backwards politically. Direct and punchy media operations have helped bolster public support. Greater support from other unions and the public in terms of hardship will also be required, along with their greater political involvement. The CWU rally of militants, on Friday December 9 is a model of its kind, bolstering militancy among key activists.
This is going to be a prolonged fight and promoting the strike wave and developing its support and tactics will be necessary. The tasks are to keep pushing back against this government and demanding that Labour breaks with Tory policies. Victory to the strikers!
- Keep up to date with strikes in your area here https://twitter.com/strike_map
- Organise a fund raising event and get your union to donate to the national RMT strike fund here and the CWU strike fund here.
Images used in graphic: 1) Maps of counties of the United Kingdom BLANK, by John Jones, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons, and 2) American Flag Waving on a Flag Pole, by Noah Wulf, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons. Both images cropped and adjusted.