The fight we have not yet had

Workers' Fight workplace bulletin editorials
10 September 2007

In the run-up to this years's TUC conference, the union leaders decided to bring the issue of casualisation to the fore, calling it "one of the biggest scandals you can imagine" - as if they were discovering it for the first time. But casual labour is not something which has suddenly appeared on the working class scene.

The trend towards casualising jobs already began several decades ago. And then when Labour came to power in 1997, Gordon Brown actually made casual work a feature of the Britain's "flexible labour" economy to "attract investment"!

Yes, casualisation is a scandal. But the union bureaucrats have only ever made empty statements against it, calling for "equal rights for agency temps". They do not therefore address the continual denial of all kinds of rights - to sick and holiday pay, for instance - to non-agency temps, including those hired directly by bosses on fixed term contracts.

They have only themselves to blame

Of course the TUC points out how casualisation undermines the conditions of permanent workers. It emphasises how bosses play off young or cheap foreign workers against the others. But what has been done about this over the years?

In fact, time and again, temps have found themselves barred from joining a union, isolated at work and, if they sought to fight for their rights they had to fight on their own - before being sacked.

Sure, recently, some unions have begun to recruit temps, including some of the new migrant workers from the wider EU, but they are still "separate". Moreover, the union leadership expects the "equal rights" to come from government legislation! Why would this boss-friendly government, remove the many advantages for bosses in hiring temps?

Brown proved this when he addressed the TUC conference. His plans, for "training" to answer the lack of real jobs, include new subsidies for employers like Primark which sells cheap clothes made by sweatshop labour, and Sainsbury.

They will apparently take on workers for "training" - but for what? As if they will be offering good, permanent, highly skilled jobs for youth and workers stuck in the poverty trap! And why should such profitable companies be subsidised to take on unemployed youth in the first place? This is a con.

Brown's idea of social justice

But Brown still targets workers, not bosses, with penalties. They will still be coerced into any job - just as long as the employer sticks to the very lousy minimum wage on which nobody can live!! Never mind the working conditions!

The contrast of this approach to Brown's leniency to the rich was highlighted by the TUC leaders themselves, when they criticised the way that the super rich are allowed to avoid paying tax.

The tax loophole which allows 112,000 "non domiciles" to avoid an estimated £4.3 billion in tax payments to the Treasury was never closed by Brown. City bonuses amounting to £14bn were already paid out this year. No pay restraint there!!

But this also means that the bosses have plenty of money to pay decent wages to ALL workers. No worker should be living in poverty nor be on a precarious work contract. And this includes public sector workers - postal workers and all others - who are offered below-inflation pay rises under 2.5%.

What has not happened for several decades is a fight against casualisation, let alone against low wages and job cuts. Union leaders love to make pronouncements on all of this - like Brendon Barber's "warnings" on the 2% public sector pay freeze. But they always pull back in fear, especially of the consequences of actually opposing and fighting the Labour government itself. Begging for better recognition is their only option.

Tyrannosaurus Rex, rise again!

Yet one thing the strike on the London Underground last week showed, is how hysterical the bosses, the media - and Ken Livingstone - become, when workers actually disrupt anything by taking strike action. They fulminated over the RMT leader, calling him (very originally!) a dinosaur!

At the same time, they try to argue that the "unions" are irrelevant. From workers' point of view, sell-out union leaders are indeed irrelevant, not because they call strikes - but because they avoid this at all costs and when we do strike, they call off the fight before it even gets started.

If working conditions have deteriorated so much that they are "scandalous" today, it is because the working class organisations which exist have failed to defend our most basic material interests by uniting ranks against the bosses years ago. This fight may be long overdue, but that is all the more reason to go for it!