Friday, 28 November 2008

We need to fight back against repressive anti-union laws

It comes to something when its easier to go on strike in China than it is in good old Blighty. A post on CiF by Zhang Hong about a taxi driver's strike in Chongqing suggests that maybe its not quite as difficult to dissent in China as you might think. Of course, we all remember Tiananmen Square and what happened in 1989, and so it is assumed that trade union action must be so much tougher in China than here.

How about what is happening in the UK in 2008? We have seen the increasing deregulation of businesses and the private sector by New labour over the past decade. In fact, New Labour have done things with big business that would make David Cameron and the Tories blush. Before New Labour, the Labour Party always had an arms-length relationship with business. But, after eighteen years in the governmental wilderness New Labour, like an enthusiastic virgin bride, has given its all for Capitalism ever since May 1st 1997. Never was a wedding so enthusiastically consummated, and the love affair has continued unabated since.

New Labour has enthusiastically pursued the regulation of citizens as much as it has made certain that workers are prevented from defending their livelihoods. While Capitalists are allowed to do what they want through deregulation, workers and citizens are increasingly controlled and restricted by a reactionary, authoritarian government.

Just a reminder - the trade unions have bankrolled the Labour Party since they created it in 1900 to represent working people. And they still do even though now the party represents the interests of the Capitalist class. It was the Thatcher government that in the 1980's introduced legislation which restricted trade unions from taking industrial action. The legislation ensured that businesses had the upper hand and that workers were unable to support each other and show the solidarity which is crucial to workers power. Nothing has changed since. A decade of Labour government has favoured the interests of the Capitalist class against working people.

But maybe its time for change. As working people suffer from the excesses of the Capitalists and their credit crunch, maybe its time for UK workers to strike back. If taxi drivers in China can strike with impunity - so much more can we. Its time to ignore the repressive class war-based laws that restrict trade unionists in the UK and fight back to demand an end to restrictive anti-trade union legislation. As businesses, like Woolworths, fail, workers should take control of them just as they did in Argentina in the 1990s.

But let's make no mistake, We can't expect the trade union leaders who have continued to bankroll New Labour to support such action. They are as much the enemies of working people as New Labour are. Trade unionists are weak because they are on their knees. Let us rise!


Anonymous said...

Jeez - and the ants are fighting back in solidarity........!!


Anonymous said...

You've made reference to trade unions before, but never explained your role in the trade union movement. I hope you're not someone who thinks unions are a good idea but takes no part himself?!

I work with people like this; I became a shop steward after dealing with some guy who was elected to deal with our issues but always ran when the going got tough. It's not just the legislation that causes this; so many shop stewards want the status of the position but not the hard work of handling members with their issues....

We need more active shop stewards; across all of our industries (well, what's left!!)


Howard Thorp said...

I am a steward - not that there is any status where I work. It would be good to be elected but we are struggling to get people to volunteer.

I think that the sad fact is that things will have to get a lot worse before they get better. It seems that many workers in the UK are unable or unwilling to learn the lessons of history. So we will have to struggle, once again, for the rights which were gained by our grandparents.

I hate war and conflict but sometimes I can't help thinking we have become far too soft and haven't got the guts to fight for our rights.

In other parts of the world the going is a lot tougher, perhaps people in the UK need a dose of real naked poverty and oppression to give them the kick up the backside that they need to stand up and fight for their rights. Not that I would wish that on anybody but I am tired of the pathetic apathy I encounter on a regular basis.

Anonymous said...

You're right; we have lost rights that grandparents and parents fought for.
But some of the trade unions have become lazy organisations themselves. Laboutr support being the easy cop out, of course.
I am a PCS member and proud of it; we defend our interests pretty well. My wife is a UNISON member; and she (like Malc) also struggled to get help when she needed it. The steward there took initial interest in her case - which wasn't an easy case - led her up the garden path and then left her desperate for support when she most needed it. He said he was "too busy with his job" to assist any further..... Any amount of legislation can't rectify the position of shop stewards who back down when the going gets tough!!

We probably do need a sea change...


Anonymous said...

I'm an overworked shopsteward; I do it because I care what happens to people at work. My managers don't care what happens to employees and don't care that I struggle to do my job as well as my union role.
I am on a committee of shop stewards and some of them are stewarsd in name only. Four of us do all the work (the other twelve always say they're too busy!); we need some legal protection as trade unionists. And some means to kick workers into some solidarity!

So how do we do it?


Howard Thorp said...

There are three things we need to do:

1. We need to join, support and promote a political party which promotes the rights of workers collectively to defend their standard of living - the Green Party is such a party. You will need to read the Manifesto for a Sustainable Society which is available on the GP website, but here is an extract - "WR432 The Green Party
recognises the right to take
industrial action without being in
breach of contract and without the
threat of dismissal or
discrimination, in accordance
with ILO Convention 87 and the
International Covenant on
Economic, Social and Cultural
Rights. We will ensure this right
is protected in UK legislation."

2. we need to start a new trade union, across sectors which will defend workers rights. Such a trade union need to be orientated around defending workers, not some political ideology. It must be inclusive. It will need to take illegal industrial action - wildcat strikes - to break the labour laws.

3. we need to develop socialist enterprises, to replace Capitalist ones. These can be co-operatives or any alternative which is worker controlled - see my previous posts on this

Anonymous said...

Quite a manifesto you have!

The Employment Relations Act went some way to rectify the wrong inflicted by Thatcher. But probably a long way short; which laws is it that you seek to have repealed? As in the UK ALL industrial action is illegal - you will already know that. So it's not just wildcat strikes (although I'm no sure on what issue you would forsee the need for that?) that are the issue. It has always been illegal to strike in the UK - nothing to do with Thatcher.

If you are a shop steward and talking about forming a new union, be aware that you may be seeking to break the rules in your current trade union. I know, because some of my colleagues did the same in the ambulance service. You will find you are obliged to follow the rule book if you're elected to represent any trade union.....


Anonymous said...

We need better regulation of the capitalist regime, and increased workers rights.
We have been downtrodden for far too long.
Is a "new union" that right answer? I don't think so - let's get the craft and trade unions doing what they should be doing (and do pretty well, by an large). Is the Green Party the answer? I doubt it; the party is not engaging with the working class (quite middle class leaning in many ways). We need to be sure that the BNP don't steal votes from the traditional socialist "Labour voters", jjust because Labour seems to have soled out. Well, all bar the lareg scale nationalisation of the banks.....


Howard Thorp said...

Thanks for your comments. I don't pretend to have all the answers but it is useful to have a debate. There are obviously some trade union activists who are disillusioned, like me, and have read the blog.

The GP does have an active trade union group - GPTU - and decent policies on workers rights which you can see in the manifesto on the website - definitely better than anything that New Labour, the Tories and Lib Dems have to offer workers (not difficult I know).

The GPTU group is open, inclusive and has a majority, as far as I am aware, of working class people in it.

I'm a bit sick of the 'middle class' jibes about he GP. We are a party which ought to be attractive to disillusioned Labour supporters but unfortunately many are too prejudiced to look at what we have to offer. I'm confident that will change in the longer run.

As for wildcat strikes - no I'm not suggesting workers should just go out and get on with it I'm saying that I think we have less to fear from this type of industrial action then we think.

Also - if talking about setting up an alternative union is against my union's rule book - do I care? Its their loss if I leave. At a recent branch committee meeting there was widespread gloom about our union - if the branch committee is asking why we should remain members - then something is seriously wrong.

Howard Thorp said...


I don't think we should read anything into the 'nationalisation' of the banks. What has been done has been done to save Capitalism - not to change it for the better. Brown, Darling, Cameron and co. are hoping to restore business as usual as soon as possible. This is just a hiccup as far as they are concerned.


Anonymous said...

For your comments, i think you yourself are in the wrong union.

we had a bloke on our committee who attended meetings rarely, and when he bothered to come he arrived late (never ever an explanation), sat with his arms crossed in a huff whilst messing about with his laptop intermittently. In the end, someone asked why he was involved, as he was always too busy to help members etc. It became apparent it was a means of getting out of some of his shift. He is no longer a shop steward....
This wasn't the law that was wrong; the man was in the wrong role....