On Thursday and Friday, more than 200,000 workers went on strike. The strike wave in Britain is growing despite all attempts by the trade union bureaucracy to slow it down.
A two-day strike by 115,000 Communications Workers Union (CWU) postal workers at Royal Mail on Thursday and Friday coincided with a 48-hour walkout led by 70,000 university staff across all higher education institutions in the UK and a strike by almost 50,000 teachers in Scotland. These three groups of workers have other strike days planned, notably November 30 and December 1 by university staff and postal workers. On Friday, the Education Institute of Scotland announced another 16 consecutive strike days for January and February.
At Britain’s biggest employer, the National Health Service (NHS), 300,000 members of the Royal College of Nursing have voted to strike: a two-day strike is planned for next month. Almost half a million NHS workers belonging to Unison, Britain’s biggest public sector union, completed the vote on Friday. Other health unions are in the process of voting, including 30,000 members of the Royal College of Midwives. The Unite union will complete the vote for its NHS members next week. Tens of thousands of doctors in training are expected to vote for a strike in the new year.
The Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union has announced a further eight days of nationwide action between 13 December and 7 January by 40,000 members of the Network Rail and Rail Operating Company (TOC). Strikes by thousands of members of the train drivers’ union ASLEF continue and a national strike – their fifth this year – took place on Saturday.
In response to this escalation of the class struggle, Times released a concerned editorial titled “All Out” on Friday. Referring to the strike by postal workers and education workers, he said: ‘If Britain really faces another winter of discontent, it started in earnest yesterday. Across the country, hundreds of thousands of workers have gone on strike to paralyze public services…”
The leader warns: “With inflation at 11.1 per cent showing no sign of abating in the near term, workers will inevitably demand that their meager wages rise at a comparable rate. Every employer in the public and private sectors faces this unavoidable pressures from their workers”.
The rate of 11.1 percent corresponds to the lowest inflation target. The more precise target for the retail price index is already above 14 percent.
that Times stating that “ministers must not compromise” on the demands of the strikers.
As is invariably the case with ruling elite editors, they seek to portray sections of the union bureaucracy as unwilling to listen to reason. The RMT’s Mick Lynch and the UCU’s Jo Grady are categorized as ‘stubborn union leaders’ who ‘don’t recognize that they too have to compromise’.
The opposite is true. Each strike continues or – as in the education and NHS sectors – begins despite weeks of intense negotiations between unions and government/employers, with both sides insisting deals were still possible to avoid walkouts.
that Times he himself reported on talks between the RMT and Secretary of State for Transport Mark Harper that the latter now hopes the rail strikes “will be over before Christmas”.
Harper said three times there was “shared agreement” that the dispute had gone on too long” and that “unions and employers are realistic in this process”.
Lynch himself called the meeting “productive”, said he believed the government had “got rid of the warring monsters we had before” and also spoke of a “shared understanding” for “both sides – unions and employers” – to “put an end to this conflict”.
The bureaucracies of all striking unions demand only minimal concessions which they can then present to their members as a “victory”. Documents leaked to the pseudo-left Socialist Workers Party this week, with the RMT complaining that ‘the Conservative government is refusing to allow unions and rail companies to discuss’ a deal and ‘directly interfering with our attempts to reach an agreement’, illustrate . how their program isn’t worth much.
The deal the RMT wants to discuss is “a pay offer of 4 per cent this year, then 4 per cent next year and a further £500 – but only if union leaders agree and implement the cuts”. The RMT’s willingness is illustrated by the agreement reached with ScotRail, which provides a salary of 5 per cent for a year plus £750 for accepting new technologies and reductions, and by the agreement reached with Transport for Wales, which provides “a pay offer of just 4.5 per cent , rising to 6.6 percent with ‘productivity elements'”.
The strike wave in Britain is part of a growing wave of struggles internationally. Strikes across all sectors continue across Europe, including a nationwide one-day strike over public sector pay in Portugal last week and walkouts by oil refinery workers in France and the Netherlands. On Monday, 48,000 university workers in the University of California system went on strike to demand wages and benefits that keep pace with inflation. Also this week, workers from a third U.S. railroad union voted to reject a national railroad deal between the White House.
In every country the working class faces a trade union apparatus made up of well-paid bureaucrats dedicated to suppressing the class struggle on behalf of business and the state. As the class struggle expands, the working class must develop forms of organization to prevent the trade union bureaucracy from sabotaging its struggles.
Workers must immediately turn to the formation of their own rank-and-file committees, democratically elected and independent of the stifling grip of union bureaucracies. The International Committee of the Fourth International created the International Workers’ Alliance of Rank-and-File Committees (IWA-RFC) to guide action committees and coordinate them internationally.
(Article published in English on 26 November 2022)