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Union militancy pays
THE LONDON underground system almost closed down for three days last week as Metronet tube maintenance workers, members of the RMT union, prepared to strike. They were determined that their jobs would not be outsourced to other companies resulting in worse conditions, which Metronet had originally pledged not to do.
Such was the workers' determination to fight this attack with a strike and overtime ban, led by a fighting leadership, that Metronet not only backed down but agreed to bring escalator refurbishment back in-house, to discuss bringing back cleaning contracts and lift refurbishments in-house, and discuss ending biometric clocking on and off.
This was not only a victory in stopping new attacks on underground workers - when victories are not that common at present - but this threatened action forced Metronet to reverse previous outsourcing, showing what can be achieved with a determined fight.
"Our Metronet members deserve congratulating for standing solidly together to defend their organisation, jobs and conditions and to prevent further dangerous fragmentation," RMT leader Bob Crow announced after Metronet caved in.
Such a result answers those within the trade unions who say there is no mood for action. It shows that victories can be won against outsourcing and other attacks on workers' conditions.
The civil servants' union, PCS, has also shown how a left, fighting leadership can give confidence to workers to take action where necessary to force concessions on pensions, jobs and services. Once again PCS members are striking - this time on May Day, 1 May.
While chancellor Gordon Brown has thrown down the gauntlet of a pay freeze for public-sector workers, few unions are prepared to fight back, but the PCS is a notable exception. UNISON and other public sector unions should unite with PCS against the pay freeze and other attacks.
Contrast the attitude of RMT and PCS leaders with the analysis of Derek Simpson, general secretary of Amicus, when commenting on the closure of the Peugeot car plant near Coventry, which moved to Slovakia: "We could have gone on strike, but it would not have made any difference. We could have sat in the plant, it wouldn't have made any difference." (Interview in The Times 12/03/07).
He counterposed the idea of a global union to a 'here and now' battle to save jobs. In reality an occupation of the plant could have brought about real international solidarity and a serious struggle from the union.
Give a fighting lead
In the largest teachers' union, too, the NUT, Socialist Party members reached the conclusion at the recent NUT conference that "many of the NUT tops, from both left and right, fear that members will not respond to a call for national action." Socialist Party teachers, on the other hand, called for national action over workload and new regulations that will worsen performance pay, a call that has received widespread support from classroom teachers.
Where unions give a fighting lead, as with the RMT and PCS, or with local trade union struggles such as the Whipps Cross hospital workers, Glasgow council workers over 'single status' and Visteon car parts workers (all with local Socialist Party members playing a key role) - then victories can be achieved.
This is also how the trade unions can be re-built, as more workers will join unions that are fighting their corner and achieving results.
In order to build a fighting leadership in all unions it is crucial for socialists to come together within the unions. The success of Left Unity within PCS, with Socialist Party members at its core, has shown how a union can be built to defend its members.
The NEC elections presently taking place in UNISON and PCS are an opportunity to elect fighting leaders. Six Socialist Party members are standing for the UNISON elections and ten for those in PCS, alongside other lefts. These are important elections and part of the campaign to create trade unions that will defend workers from the continuing onslaught on pay and conditions.
The Shop Stewards Network founding conference on Saturday 7 July will bring together trade union activists from around the country where all these issues can be discussed.
27 Jan After the defeat
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