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From: The Socialist issue 1027, 30 January 2019: Austerity out, Tories out

Search site for keywords: Liverpool - Union - Workers - Unions - Pay - Roger Bannister - National Shop Stewards Network

Liverpool Travelodge digger wrecking: union organising is the answer

NSSN activists lobbying the TUC for action, 9.9.18, photo Mary Finch

NSSN activists lobbying the TUC for action, 9.9.18, photo Mary Finch   (Click to enlarge)

Roger Bannister, Liverpool Socialist Party

Footage of a disgruntled construction worker, owed 600 by his employer, smashing the reception of a newly built Liverpool Travelodge with his digger has gone around the world. It has attracted humorous comments, condemnation and some sympathy.

Within a few hours, crowdfunding had raised hundreds of pounds - initially to cover the 600, but then to help pay for legal representation in the inevitable court case.

The many workers who have been underpaid by their bosses will no doubt sympathise, and may even wish they had access to a mechanical digger!

Despite the myths peddled by the capitalist media, British law is overwhelmingly biased towards the employer. It is extremely difficult to prevent an employer from cheating you on pay or other rights in advance, and there are only limited means to seek redress after the event.

According to the government's own statistics, over 9,000 minimum-wage workers were underpaid by bosses in 2018, to the sum of 1.1 million. And in recent years, local councils have had to pay millions for historic equal pay legislation breaches to thousands of low-paid women. Just recently, the heroic 8,000 Glasgow strikers forced their employer's hand on this too.

But reports suggest the worker in question here is not a member of a trade union. This case illustrates an important fact of life under capitalism: workers' rights count for little if workers have no effective method of enforcing them. It is of crucial importance that all workers belong to a trade union.

Unions

Unions can provide legal assistance to pursue non-payment of wages. But more importantly, a well-organised workplace is more likely to prevent these problems occurring in the first place - by stopping the job with industrial action if workers don't consider employers' treatment of them proper.

Union leaderships vary. Some are good, some are bad. Even the best-led unions may vary in effectiveness from place to place, section to section.

It is therefore also vital that rank-and-file workers take control, by electing fighting shop stewards in their workplaces, and combative representatives to their unions' governing bodies. Militant shop stewards can link up with like-minded reps via the National Shop Stewards Network, to learn from each other's experiences, and plan coordinated action where appropriate.

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The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

The government has now ripped up its 'austerity' mantra and turned to policies that not long ago were denounced as socialist. But after the corona crisis, it will try to make the working class pay for it, by trying to claw back what has been given.

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Article dated 30 January 2019

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