By INTERNATIONAL WORKERS LEAGUE – FI
The UK is possibly the country with the most strikes in the world today. Since June there have seen successive strikes approved by ballot at the grassroots (railway workers, postal workers, university workers and teachers in the public service, etc.); undefined strikes, such as the bus drivers’ in the North West; radicalised strikes and protests with national reaches, such as at Amazon, and in over 20 other workplaces, covering oil refineries, nuclear power plants, petrochemical facilities. Some of these strikes are considered “illegal”, as they do not abide by the strike law, which imposes a series of barriers to workers’ right to demonstrate.
Workers affiliated to the RMT (about 40,000 railway and underground workers) and bus drivers in London are coordinating their strikes. The RMT held a three-day strike in June and a 24-hour strike on 19 August and the Unite’s London bus drivers joined them on 20 August, on the second round of strikes. So the joint action begins. In addition, the CWU (115,000 plus postal workers) announced a two-day industrial action in August, which was carried out with broad popular support, and two days in September.
Employers offer a 2 to 3% pay rise while inflation is above 11%, and rising. Officially it will rise to 13% in January 2023. The typical household’s annual bills are expected to exceed £4,200 from January, amid the UK’s biggest cost of living crisis for decades. Petrol’s price has almost doubled in 9 months. Natural gas, essential for heating homes in winter, has seen a huge price increase.
In this context, a process of radicalisation of the working class has begun, which amounts to a wave of strikes with the following characteristics:
1) Many workers and trade unions think that industrial actions have come to stay. The anger is growing. The railway union RMT believes that this struggle will last for several months.
2) The spread of “illegal” strikes shows the way anti-union laws should be broken. The Labour Party and the TUC (Trades Union Congress) have organised endless conferences since the 1980s, but without any effective action to face these laws. The TUC today groups 48 national unions and represents around 5 million workers. In the 1980s and 1990s, the government of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher attacked and succeeded in emasculating the trade union movement by imposing anti-union laws, such as the secret postal ballot and minimum quorum requirements, obstacles that today make it difficult to carry out strikes. But the current strike wave can overcome these barriers. The unions affiliated with the TUC support and organise strikes, while the TUC leadership limits itself to making statements. For example, on 18 June it organised a national protest in London, under the weak banner of “we demand more”, with the participation of 40,000 people, but did not take any action for the unification of the ongoing strikes.
3) Strikes happen in the private and public sectors, including industrial workers (power stations, nuclear power stations, oil and gas refineries, aircraft, chemicals). An estimated 33 workplaces are conducting “illegal” strikes. The RMT has become an inspiration for many workers and national strikes are increasing (train drivers, postal and telecommunications workers). Public sector workers are also on strike (state workers) or going on strike (teachers and universities), etc. In Scotland, public workers went on strike from 18 to 30 August, mainly municipal waste workers, the education and childcare sector and other municipal services. They rejected an initial offer of a 3.5% pay rise, then 5% and are threatening to resume another week of strike action from 6 September.
4) RMT and UCW (postal workers) insist that they are social services. The RMT is holding a rally (on 31 August) to fight for ticket offices and a decent public transport system. The rail bosses and the government want to close all ticket offices (and reduce railway maintenance to half).
5) If the TUC called a general strike, there would be a massive response, but at the moment it is not planning to do so. The workers are taking actions that go beyond their ideas and demands.
6) It should not be out of sight that the strikes and the cost of living crisis forced Boris Johnson out.
7) The Labour leadership is against strikes. Starmer demands that MPs and Councillors do not take part in the picket lines. Hatred of Labour is growing among workers.
8) Jeremy Corbyn still retains prestige among many trade unionists and activists. He and the Labour left are taking part on many picket lines.
9) At the beginning of the conflicts, the TUC limited itself to organising a march in June. But the pressure from the rank and file is so great that two of the largest national unions affiliated with the TUC, Unite (1.2 million workers) and Unison (1.3 million public workers, especially education, administration, health etc.) have written to the TUC last week to call for “coordinated strikes” in the autumn over pay. That is to say that although the slogan “general strike” is not used, there is tremendous pressure from the rank and file to build it in practice by calling for the coordination of the strikes.
10) Dockers at the port of Felixstowe (South-East of Britain) – the most important port for freight transport in the country (70% of all freight transport) – started an eight-day strike on 21 August, threatening to shut down much of the country’s freight transport. They rejected a 7% pay rise, and are demanding an increase that at least matches inflation. The Aslef Railway workers will go on a 24-hour strike on 15 September in 12 companies, affecting transport between London and central and northern England, as well as trains to Scotland and Wales.
11) The strike movements could continue beyond the summer, extending to education (640,000 workers) or health (one million workers), etc., where only 4% pay rises have been offered.
12) Added to this is the recent call to boycott electricity and gas bills, as they will rocket 80% from 1 October, when the price cap on electricity companies determined by the Johnson government expires. The “Don’t Pay” campaign is running on social media, and in less than a week 128,000 people have already signed up, pledging to disconnect their automatic debit accounts from the energy companies.
Solidarity rally with UK strikes
This huge wave of strikes represents a great challenge and opportunity for working-class people and revolutionaries.
It is urgent that the working class in other European countries and across the world inform themselves and discuss the situation of the class struggle in the UK, to organise a big campaign of solidarity with our class brothers and sisters.
Initially, we propose that trade unions or social movement leaders, wherever possible, make videos sending greetings and solidarity with the British strike wave and in particular to the 40,000 railway workers, 115,000 postal workers, bus drivers and dock workers. They can be sent to email@example.com.
It is very important that the British strikers receive solidarity motions from workers around the world. It is our task to take up this cause and make these workers’ struggles visible all over the world. The British working class shows us the way.