The Johnson Tory government has already signalled its intention of launching new attacks against the trade union movement and organised workers in defence of profits for the rich. The first target is to be the rail unions, whose members have led the way in standing up against Tory attacks and exploitation by the greedy privateers who run the rail services so dismally. The existing union laws have largely failed to break the rail unions, who have smashed through the restrictions already in place, so new laws are now being proposed which in time will be used against all workers.
The last decade in public transport has been marked by one fiasco after another with the so-called “efficiency” of the private sector delivering nothing but failed promises and sub-standard services. The only thing they have succeeded with has been rising fares and huge profits for themselves. Season tickets have gone up by 33% over the last ten years, with many fares rising to ridiculous levels. Yet rail unions have noted that over £4.4 billion pounds have been pocketed by share owners in the form of dividends during this same period. This works out at £483 million a year, or over 5% of fare revenue - all syphoned away at our expense.
Right to strike
With campaigners against the latest fare rises getting a warm response from angry travellers faced with higher fares on 2 January, what is the government going to do? Propose renationalisation? No. They are to bring forward new reactionary laws to force striking rail workers to provide a ‘bare bones’ rail services during strike days, thereby undermining their industrial action.
No details are available yet as to what ‘bare bones’ actually means and how the forced labour will be corralled to run it but it is clear that the Tories intend this to be a trial run for other sectors of industry and public services. As RMT general secretary Mick Cash put it: “Nobody should be under any illusions about the scale of the threat now being lined up against the trade union movement. Banning strikes and denying workers the basic human right to withdraw their labour has been the hallmark of hard right, authoritarian regimes throughout history.”
Unions must take this on board and prepare to fight back - an attack on the rail unions is an attack on all workers. It is all aimed at breaking the power of organised labour, pushing through low pay and job losses. If not challenged this proposed law will be followed by others even more draconian, including the outright outlawing of strike action.
Steve Hedley, RMT Senior Assistant General Secretary, also attacked the Tory’s proposals: “The rebellion in the North showed one thing and it's that working class people will not be taken for granted. If it's an affront to democracy to ignore the Brexit vote, how much bigger an affront is it to take away the democratic right to withdraw your labour? … The scene is set for an epic confrontation between the agents of capital and the organised working class. In such a scenario neutrality is not an option.”
The TUC should act as a real general staff of the trade union movement. It is time they provided effective leadership rather than wringing their hands. The TUC should call an emergency conference of the trade union movement to discuss and organise effective and speedy responses to this attack. “An injury to one is an injury to all,” is our motto. Mass demonstrations should be held to galvanise support in every town and city, workplace and college. The question of calling a one-day general strike to focus the struggle and show the might of the forces of the organised working class must be at the heart of this. This is the only language the Tories and their big business backers will understand - moral appeals and half-hearted protests will just be brushed aside. Parliamentary challenges by themselves will be pointless. This government fears one thing only: the power of workers in action. That is why the Tories are determined to try and break it and that is why fighting back is the only option.
At the same time, Labour must hold to its pledges to not only repeal the anti-trade union laws but also renationalise the rail network. This should be done in one go with no compensation to the fat cats who have robbed us blind. Only by running the railways under public ownership with proper funding and under workers’ control and management can we have the service we deserve.
Workers cannot rely on fair play from the system either - the post workers saw that last year with the High Court outlawing their strike despite huge majorities and turnouts for action. We must rely on our own strength. All the coming attacks from this Tory government against our class must be met head on - that must be the message we send.