While we’re all supposed to look forward to the coming Xmas festivities and their implied “social truce”, many employers are pushing their luck by attacking workers on various fronts - whether it be attacks on their jobs, wages, conditions, or pensions.
Not all bosses are getting away with it, though, as is shown by this week’s strikes at privately-owned Southern Railway and the 5-day strike which has been announced at the publicly-owned Post Office. In both cases, workers are taking action over long-standing issues against a management which has stubbornly stuck to its guns for months. The strike at Southern comes after a series of other strikes against Driver Only Operation (DOO). As to Post Office workers, they will be striking for the fourth time this year, against 2,000 job cuts (one third of the workforce) resulting from more Crown Post Offices being privatised and for most, the closure of their final salary pension scheme.
So, yes - no matter how much governments restrict our right to strike, as Cameron did shortly before resigning, the working class still has the muscle and the will to fight back against the bosses’ greed!
AGAINST SOUTHERN’S PROFITEERING
The DOO that Southern wants to impose on workers means drivers have to assume responsibility for safety which they have, so far, shared with guards.
Ironically, Southern says this is “modernisation”. Never mind that DOO was first used 30 years ago - but only for 3-car trains. Today, Southern runs trains which are 4 times longer! Drivers, on whose driving the lives of 1,100 passengers depend, are thus also meant to worry about what happens when these passengers get in and out of these giant trains!
For Southern, of course, DOO is just a way of boosting profits by cutting costs - of which it has a long record. Wasn’t it Southern which cut one in six of its weekday services for 3 months last July? At the time, it had the nerve to blame workers’ sickness - but the real problem was that, due to cost cutting, it was running on a skeleton staff.
Southern has done everything to stop this week’s 3-day strike and the 6-day strike planned for January. It sought an injunction against the drivers’ union, claiming that the strikes would undermine the "freedom of circulation in Europe" by stopping trains between London and Gatwick. Ironically, Southern’s most prominent supporter is none other than Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, a raving Eurosceptic who is most vocally opposed to the freedom of movement in Europe!
In any case, for once, the courts found in favour of the union and not only has the planned strike gone ahead, but it has been totally solid, with not even one train running.
PUTTING ALL THE ODDS ON OUR SIDE
These strikes show that there is no shortage of cause for discontent and, certainly, no lack of willingness to fight back - contrary to what union leaders often tell us. But the problem the working class faces, is the need to rebuild its own self-confidence, by making the best of its militancy.
However, in this respect, nothing can be expected from the union leaderships, as is shown by the way they are handling these strikes.
At Southern, the two rail unions - ASLEF and RMT - have called strikes on different days in December and January. So that striking guards and drivers never have a chance to meet, in order to discuss and decide what they want to do next.
What’s more, there are similar issues at other rail companies. Guards and other workers at Virgin East Coast, for instance, are facing a restructuring exercise involving 200 job cuts! To strengthen the hand of railway workers under attack, wouldn’t the coordination of strike action across all the companies concerned, be the obvious thing to organise?
Likewise, shouldn’t the strike of the 6,000 or so Crown Post Office workers over jobs and pensions, be coordinated with a fight back against exactly the same issues faced by the much larger Royal Mail workforce? All the more so, as the jobs done by the two companies are so tightly intertwined!
But don’t hold your breath: nowhere have union leaders any such plans. In fact, ASLEF general secretary Mick Whelan’s reply, when Grayling called the Southern strike “political”, says it all. Whelan sheepishly rejected the accusation, by saying it was all about passengers’ safety. Yes, it is, of course. But equally, why should we, workers, make any apologies for defending our own interests?
In that sense any strike is - and should be - proudly “political”, being against the greed of the ruling capitalist class! And, just as the capitalists use all the resources available to their class in order to fight us, so we should too, by using all the collective force we can muster, to fight them!