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British Perspectives 2018

Socialist Party documents

British Perspectives 2018

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Role of trade union leaders

7) The right wing trade union leaders, who were determined to get rid of Jeremy Corbyn just months ago, are resigned, for the moment, to his continued leadership for a period.

They are quite happy to lean on and stoke a certain mood of 'waiting for a Labour government to save us' in order to avoid organising a serious national struggle against continued pay restraint and austerity.

There is nothing fundamentally new in their approach, but, ironically, the greater hopes of a section of workers in Corbyn make it easier than with Miliband, for example.

At the same time the whole preceding period - where the TUC leadership organised a successful public sector general strike but then stepped back from leading a serious struggle against Tory austerity - has left the majority of trade union leaders extremely passive.

They treat the crumbs that the government has been forced under pressure to give on pay not as a sign of weakness, showing the possibility of smashing the pay cap, but as gifts to be met with gratitude.

8) The incredibly draconian new anti-trade union laws are given as a justification for inaction. The turnouts required for legal strike action are a real obstacle to national legal action, but not an insurmountable one, as the magnificent 73% turnout (with a nearly 90% majority) in the CWU strike ballot showed.

However, turnout is not the only obstacle created by the new laws, as demonstrated by Royal Mail's subsequent successful use of the courts to make the CWU action illegal until 'mediation' was completed.

It is not clear what will happen with the Royal Mail dispute, although we understand that some concessions have been won by the union.

9) All of this should mean, obviously, not a retreat from national action but a serious attitude to preparing for it.

In some cases this could mean first holding a consultative ballot - as the PCS has done - in order to prepare the ground for a successful statutory ballot.

We have to put central the need for coordinated strike action, in the first instance across the public sector over the question of pay.

Potentially, the national TUC demonstration called for 12 May 2018, could become a launch pad for such a campaign on this and other issues such as the NHS.

Unless they are put under serious pressure from below, however, the TUC tops will see this belated demo, at best, as a means to let off steam.

We therefore have to be prepared to support individual sections and groups of public sector workers having to fight a rear-guard battle, while continuing to campaign for coordinated action.

10) Of course, well-prepared campaigns of industrial action would not necessarily prevent the strikes being blocked by the courts.

Defiance of the capitalist law is inevitably going to be posed in the next period. We demand that, when any union takes this road, the TUC should immediately come to their defence, organising solidarity action if they are threatened with any punitive action.

All previous experience shows that this is not how the TUC leadership will behave! It is therefore vital that the left trade unions coordinate together, pledging solidarity action with any union that is under legal threat for defying the anti-union laws.

Even if a minority of unions were to pledge such solidarity it would be possible to force this weak government to retreat.

The Labour leadership also has a vital role to play. They have correctly pledged to repeal the latest anti-trade union laws.

In such a situation they would need to go further and clearly support trade unionists forced to take action outside the law, pledging to immediately reverse any measures against them taken by the current government.

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