We need to make sure our strikes take place and what's more, take place together!

Workers' Fight workplace bulletin editorials
29 June 2022

The bosses and their politicians in government are having sleepless nights. "Will there be a summer of discontent?" they ask, since a summer of strikes across industries and sectors, is their worst nightmare.

    On Tuesday, Sky TV presenter Kay Burley asked the leader of the Communication Workers' Union (CWU), Dave Ward, whether "he" was intending to co-ordinate action with other workers - like the railway workers in the RMT, whose 3 days of action last week coincided, on the first day, with workers on London's Underground... And which of course brought a grid-locked London to a near-halt and stopped most national rail services.

    Yes, she wants to know, since there's now the added threat of a strike by 45,000 BT engineers and call centre workers in the CWU, who rejected a £1,500 lump sum (£125/m!), and whose action could really upset the internet! That, on top of the anticipated strike by 115,000 Royal Mail workers, who were told by the utterly contemptuous RM Board that they were to have 2% on pay, or just over 5% with strings, which would remove what's left after privatisation of everything they ever fought for and won in the past!

    And never mind that the Retail Price Index of inflation is soaring above 12% already, and likely to go up a lot more! Or that most workers, whatever their sector or industry, are doing the work of 2 or 3, because of the dire shortage of hands and bosses' refusal to recruit.

Unexpected class action!

Yet while the bosses, media and politicians insult, misrepresent and tell downright lies about the current response by unionised workers to the cost of living crisis, support for strikers has come from unexpected quarters.

    On Tuesday the doctors' union leaders announced that they would also take strike action and one spokesperson stood up to say "Well done RMT!"

    In fact whatever the baseline salary of these more privileged NHS workers, doctors have had no increase for several years - and indeed have faced a de facto 30% pay cut. To make up for this they are demanding a 30% increase over 5 years, which averages out at 6% a year: not, in fact, that much!

    And then there were the Criminal Barristers, who surprised everyone by refusing to take on any more cases and mounted pickets on Monday - with more strikes to come over the next 4 weeks - gathering outside the courts wearing their robes and wigs!

    In fact last week, doctors and barristers came to visit railway workers' picket lines to show their solidarity. And RMT strikers were shocked to hear that a junior barrister's starting pay was as low as £12,200 a year! Yes, thanks to the severe cuts in legal aid by successive governments which mean that lawyers and barristers who mainly take criminal court work which depends on state funding, often cannot make ends meet.

    The irony today is that Johnson, while in full flow of his vote-grabbing, levelling-up lies and hypocrisy, even said he wanted to preside over a "high wage economy"! All that hot air is forgotten, as he tries to save his own mop-head by playing statesman over the Ukraine war, and justifying arms spending to keep the military-industrial and oil capitalists' "high profit" economy levelled-up!

    By now it is evident that very few - and certainly not the working class majority - would want to see Johnson presiding over anything into the future. All the nodding heads seem to agree that for him, vacating 10 Downing Street is a question of "when" and not "if".

Taking the decisions into our own hands!

But for the working class, whoever is in power under this capitalist system, makes little difference. Whenever there is a crisis, as there is today, with the ever-worsening world economic recession, made all the worse by Brexit in Britain and the war in Ukraine, the capitalist class has only one answer: "squeeze the workers even more".

    The only option the working class has, if it wants to stop this suffocating squeeze, is to use its one and only effective weapon: withdrawing its labour. But striking in the usual way is never enough, as the "Winter of Discontent" in the 1970s proved. In today's framework of legal restrictions which successive governments have imposed and which union leaders are so fearful of breaking, this is even more so.

    Like Labour's leaders who refuse to say they support strikes, union leaders refuse to say they consider this is the only way to win. Instead, they all say "we want bosses to come to the table and negotiate a settlement".

    They all deny that only by a co-ordinated fight - in fact by a general strike - can the balance of forces in society really be tipped in favour of the working class and its allies. And every time they are asked about collective and co-ordinated action, which today is happening only because of circumstances, rather than conscious decisions, they refuse to give a straight answer.

    It is precisely these conscious decisions which will make or break any strike action and which workers themselves - those who're on strike - will need to undertake. It is only then, too, that the aim of most workers - not just to have a higher wage, but for society itself to change - can ever be placed on the agenda.

    So that is what needs to be aimed for. Not just manning the picket lines, but finding ways to bring as many strikers together on strike days, so that it is they who make the decisions, then and there, on how to proceed and what is in their interests. It cannot be left to leaders who "negotiate" with the bosses, using our "leverage", behind closed doors.

    The lever has to remain in our hands. Because that is the only way, ultimately, for the working class to win.