Friday, June 17, 2011

Ruling Class On The Attack Ahead Of 30th June Strikes

Many PCS members voted for a strike...but many more didn't
As the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union released the result of its 30th June strike ballot on Wednesday, the vulpine Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude was all over the TV schedules, in what was clearly a pre-planned counter-offensive. Maude - whose personal wealth is estimated at £3 million - told teatime news presenters that he was concerned about "vulnerable" service users, who would be affected by the strike action. He also argued that the low turnout meant the PCS had no mandate for strike action. Though his hypocrisy is easy to see, the figures do appear to show a general dissatisfaction with the PCS leadership. And PCS is not the only union with a thin strike mandate for the 30th. The turnout was well below half in both the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) ballots. What does this mean, and how does the ruling class intend to make political capital out of these circumstances?

Under the government's proposed changes, civil servants face a doubling or even tripling of their pension contributions, but will receive less when they eventually retire, years later than they currently do. This is clearly a dire, intolerable prospect. Yet only 32.4% of PCS members registered a vote - less than one third. Out of those, 61.1% voted for a one day strike on 30th June. Maude gleefully pointed out, that is just under one fifth of the membership

The Socialist Worker response rightly observed that's not how votes work, and anyway, "we should take no lectures from the likes of David Cameron on “democracy” or “democratic mandates”. On his definition of democracy, he wouldn’t be prime minister today." This is certainly true. The coalition parties got a combined vote of 59.1% in the 2010 general election, on an overall turnout of 65%. This means that the government represents the votes of only 38% of the electorate, even though it comprised of two parties.

Of course, it is extremely and deliberately misleading to imply - as Francis Maude did on Wednesday - that 80% of PCS members do not want to strike on 30th May. But it would be just as disingenuous to suggest it's a given that even a majority do want to withdraw their labour. There are lots of reasons why people don't vote in union ballots, and doubtless even some who cast votes opposing strike action will be seen on picket lines come the day. However, it is easy to see why some - who have been led into losing battles by the union tops before - might not want to forgo a day's pay, when they'll just have to catch up on the work anyway, and they suspect general secretary Mark Serwotka and company might stitch them up once again. Many people will not be able to remember the last time working people 'won' a strike in the UK.

Primarily, this is because the unions are fundamentally undemocratic institutions, presided over by bureaucrats who are richly rewarded for managing the anger of their memberships in this era of hyper-globalisation. Though he promised to take something like the average worker's wage when campaigning for leadership of the PCS more than ten years ago, Serwotka takes home a package worth more than £100,000 annually. He will do anything to maintain his privilege, and PCS members have bitter experience of this.

Bob Crow puts the 'champagne' into 'champagne socialist', and takes out the 'socialist'
Bob Crow of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union makes another easy target for the ruling class, as his union prepares for London strike action around 30th June. The Sun caught "champagne leftie" Crow and pals enjoying a three-and-a-half hour, £650 liquid lunch in a swanky restaurant this last Monday. Though rank and file RMT members would no doubt feel sick at such a bill, Crow rakes in almost £150,000 per year, and can easily afford such extravagance.

For 'bad cop' Conservatives like Boris Johnson and 'good cop' Lib Dems such as Vince Cable, the rank and file's despair represents an opportunity to further tighten the anti-union laws, which are already the most restrictive in Europe. Johnson wants a new law, requiring unions to win the votes of more than half of their membership before they can call strike action. For his part, Cable told the GMB conference just two weeks ago that co-ordinated strike action - such as that scheduled for 30th June - would mean "the pressure on us to act would ratchet up."

In the midst of the worst financial crisis since the 1930s, the ruling classes of the richest nations are determined to push working class living standards back to pre-war levels. If the union bosses are able to restrain and demoralise their memberships, governments will not feel a need to restrict workers' right to strike any further. But if they are not, that is exactly what will happen. A genuine fightback will need to declare its independence from the union bureaucracy, and its opposition to ruling class law.
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