Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Public Sector Strike Predictions

Expect to see old pictures like this dredged up over the next couple of months
General secretaries have used the Trades Union Congress conference in London to announce that they will be balloting their membership for strike action against the government's raid on pensions. So far, only 30% of the public sector workforce is covered by the ballots, but already the ruling class is howling in outrage. Using past experience and a little dialectical materialism - i.e. revolutionary common sense as a philosophical guide for the working class movement - what can be predicted over the next few months?

1) Rank-and-file workers will desperately want to resist
Why wouldn't they? After all, they 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 unacceptable. Add wage freezes and redundancies into the mix, and public sector workers have lots of reasons to be angry.

2) However, this anger will not translate into an equally huge 'yes' vote
This will be because a) workers lose pay when they strike, and b) many will not have confidence in the union's ability to win. Three quarters of a million struck in June, and lost money but didn't see any sign of retreat from the government.

3) The government will oppose the strike
Of course they will; no government would ever supported a strike against itself - this stands to reason. And the coalition want to use the economic crisis to push working class living standards back to pre-war levels. The slimeball Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude will be everywhere again, feigning concern about 'ordinary people' caught up in the 'chaos', and trying to push the line that 'we're all in it together', despite his estimated person wealth of £3 million. If the turnout is sufficiently low, this will be a central plank of his 'argument'.

4) The media will oppose the strike
Like as they did back in June, the right wing press will unleash the dogs of war, condemning 'dinosaur' and 'hate-filled' union leaders for the 'chaos', while calling attention to the 'hypocrisy' of the well-heeled tops. They'll prattle on about the 'Winter of Discontent', or the 1926 general strike, or even both, non-sensically, in the same sentence. They'll also try to play public sector workers against their private sector counterparts. The Guardian etc will call for 'calm' and 'clear heads'. The BBC will show its 'neutrality' by pitting Maude against one of the more eloquent bureaucrats, but the questioner will quite obviously side with the government's case.

The TUC's Brendan Barber and Labour's Ed Miliband are both class enemies
5) The Labour Party will oppose the strike
As he did yesterday, Labour leader Ed Miliband will repeat his mantra about 'ongoing negotiations', and brand the strike a 'mistake'. He will do this because his key constituency is the ruling class, not the working class, and he wants to demonstrate he is a 'safe pair of hands' to run crisis-wracked capitalism.

6) The union bureaucracy will work to control and stifle the strikes
The union bosses make a good living out of being the go-betweens, and their main priority is to stay in such a privileged position. Their worst nightmare is grassroots solidarity across the affected unions, making them irrelevant. Though the strikes may be 'co-ordinated' to an extent - i.e. happen on the same day - they will remain separate in practical terms. The issues of redundancies and pay freezes will not be aired in any significant way.

7) The union bureaucracy will sell out their membership
They will talk quite a good game, but fail to walk the walk when the time comes. The government will refuse to give way, and so the tops' task will be to sell the 'deal' to their membership. As one alternative to pension cuts might be more redundancies - and hence less membership dues coming in - they will sacrifice rank-and-file living standards on the altar of their own.

8) Then come unknown factors. Either:
a) A disappointed and demoralised rank-and-file will reluctantly accept the 'deal'
This has happened an enormous amount of times over the last twenty-five years. Workers lose hundreds and maybe thousands of pounds from their pay packets, and don't believe they have a hope of overturning the employer's will. So they accept the deal, with a low turnout.

b) A furious rank-and-file will take democratic control of their own struggle, unify across sectional lines, and go on an all-out attack against the government.
This would be a new one for the current generation, but it certainly can't be ruled out. The government attacks are so huge that they may be impossible to swallow for many rank-and-filers. Electricians are already starting to form their own rank-and-file committee parallel to the Unite union, so this example may spread, as might examples from Egypt or Greece, for instance.
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