Taking our interests into our own hands

Workers' Fight workplace bulletin editorials
9 September 2013

This year's conference season started with the usual trail of bickering and politicking - among politicians who have no idea of what's happening in the real world. It could just as well be happening on another planet.

While Osborne and the coalition celebrate what they describe as a "recovery", boasting success for their squeeze on public expenditure, on the basis of highly suspicious figures which prove nothing, the working class remains confronted with an unprecedented deterioration in its living conditions.

Labour, for its part, whether by choice or under pressure from the Tories, seems only concerned with demonstrating its "independence from the unions" - thereby showing, once again, that the only thing that really matters for Ed Miliband and the Labour leadership is to chase the votes of wavering better-off voters.

Politicians' posturing over low wages

Of course, there is the growing scandal of "low-wage Britain", which was exposed recently by the fact that workers' earnings have shrunk more rapidly here since the beginning of the crisis, than in any other comparable industrialised country. And this is something that neither the Coalition nor Labour can deny any longer.

So the government has promised to "investigate" the abuse of "zero-hours" contracts, while Miliband promised to the TUC conference that the next Labour government will end this abuse - but not ban these slave contracts altogether!

Hypocrites! Hasn't the Coalition promoted all forms of casual employment as a means of reducing the jobless headcount, through its Workfare Programme and other similar schemes? And isn't it planning now, as part of the rolling out of its new Universal Credit, to penalise workers whose earnings are below £950/month, to force them to work multiple part-time non-jobs? Who do they think they can fool with their "investigation"?

And didn't the previous Labour governments boast endlessly of having created a "flexible labour market", by encouraging the bosses to resort to all kinds of precarious forms of employment, including "zero-hours" contracts? In this respect, the fact that Miliband entrusted a former director of human resources at the supermarket chain Morrisons, with the task of formulating his policy on "zero-hours" contracts, probably speaks for itself!

And these politicians would want us to believe, today, that they are going to do something against the casualisation of labour that they, themselves, have promoted? Or that they will do something against the shrinking standards of living of the working class? Of course they won't. They're far too bent on going along with the bosses' drive to use the crisis as a pretext to boost their profits by cutting their labour costs to the bare bone.

The need to mobilise our ranks

Nor can we count on the union leaderships to organise a response to the bosses' attacks.

There was much talk at last year's TUC conference about "coordinated strikes". But, at the time, union leaders considered it was urgent not to make any decision as to when and how. So these "coordinated strikes" never materialised.

This year's TUC conference is not likely to be any different, judging from the self-satisfaction of its new general secretary Frances O'Grady, when she claims that the real issues are "the real ballots we have got going, which do have a just cause".

But what about all the issues that union leaders chose not to take up, for fear of upsetting their cosy relations with the bosses? What about the rise of casualisation and the transfer of so much work to low-paying contractors? What about the increasing erosion of wages by inflation, while shareholders were arrogantly lining their pockets? And what about the on-going privatisation of public services - whether in the NHS or at Royal Mail?

However, for the union leaders just as for Thatcher, it seems that "small is beautiful". O'Grady's "real ballots" may be for "a just cause", however they only target isolated sections of workers.

But how can the working class defend its collective interests if it doesn't use its collective strength? Do the bosses who attack us stop at using all the resources of their state and justice systems? And we should respond to their attacks with our hands tied behind our backs, by failing to use the full might of our class?

This may make sense for union leaders whose only dream is to brush shoulders with bosses and politicians, but it makes no sense for us, workers. Collective action, on the largest possible scale and under our own control, will be the only way to start regaining some of the ground lost over the past years.