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What We Say
A Turning Point In The Struggle
RECENT EVENTS in the trade unions mark a major change in the situation in Britain. The strike of nearly a million council workers on 17 July was an expression of the growing anger of public sector workers. This and Derek Simpson's victory over right-winger Ken Jackson in the election for general secretary of the AEEU section of Amicus, represented a turning point in the fight back against New Labour and its big business allies.
The Financial Times (22 July), contemptuously dismissed the strikes as of little significance. It compared the 29 million days lost in strikes in 1979 to the "half a million days lost last week" (a clear underestimation if you add in the tube workers as well).
It declared that if this led to a "weakening of the link" between Labour and the unions then "that is good", because the unions are an "increasingly unrepresentative lobby group".
The Socialist neither underestimates nor exaggerates these strikes. But after years of holding back their members a section of the union leaders is now feeling the ground moving under their feet.
It's clear that trade union members have had enough of collaboration between the right-wing union leaders and the bosses, especially in the so-called partnership deals pushed by the TUC.
AEEU members have watched the manufacturing sector collapse with more than 400,000 jobs going over the last three years while the Labour government says it is nothing to do with them.
Public-sector workers have had enough of a party whose councillors and MPs support privatisation and service cuts. They see their wages fall further and further behind while Labour oversees the obscenity of huge salary rises and bonuses for the bosses.
Socialist Party members in UNISON are pushing for the union to declare that its planned third national strike in September (following a strike on 14 August) should be a public-sector wide strike against low pay.
This should include the NUT in the schools who are fighting for an increase in the London allowance and the college lecturers' union NATFHE who have already had a one-day national strike over pay.
The FBU who are gearing up for their first national pay strike since the 1970s should also be approached, as should the RMT, ASLEF and the CWU to coordinate action.
If this strike was timed to coincide with the Labour Party conference it would send a signal to the whole working class that the unions are once again taking up the cudgels on their behalf.
The defeat of Ken Jackson was in its way just as important as the local government and tube strikes. The right wing at the head of the AEEU is not just an obstacle to the members but is a machine built up over decades, ruling through intimidation and putting the fear of God into anyone on the Left who puts their head above the parapet.
The removal of Jackson was welcomed but unexpected by the Left in the union. But if Derek Simpson is not to become a prisoner of the right-wing machine then he will have to organise to defeat them.
This will require the building of a left-wing rank and file organisation that operates openly and in a democratic fashion and makes an appeal to the new layers that will now want to get involved in the union.
Unfortunately, Derek Simpson, perhaps for understandable reasons given the role of the right-wing machine and the secret nature of much of the Left in the union, seems not to accept this at the moment. It will be up to others on the left, including Socialist Party members in Amicus-AEEU to fight for this to happen.
In The Socialist 26 July 2002: