by Steve Ryan
The wildcat strikes now spreading across Britain present a real challenge for the Left.
Firstly the strikes are wildcat, ignoring union bosses and to a degree the unions themselves . They are well organised and have spread very quickly.
They should not have come as a surprise. Tensions have been building for months around recession job cuts and attempts by employers to undercut terms and conditions, often through using foreign labour.
Many on the Left are arguing that we should not support the strikes. At face value this is understandable. The walkouts are being portrayed as nationalist, maybe racist. Certainly the slogans being used, whether ironic or not, are unfortunate. The BNP are undoubtedly intervening.
However for the left to walk away from this would be wrong. At a Trades Council AGM in Wrexham, North Wales two weeks ago building workers warned that this was coming and that it was about foreign workers. Instead of just dismissing these views, interventions were made around the fact that this was a narrow view, that the real problem was employers undercutting terms and conditions to boost profits. That any workers from anywhere were welcome and should not be exploited. These arguments were accepted and formed the basis for a statement from the Trade Council.
The moral here is that a progressive agenda can be argued around the strikes. The strikes are NOT inherently reactionary, as say the London Dockers supporting Powell were in the 60s. Many of the workers interviewed have been at pains to emphasis this. They ARE based around a narrow understanding of the current recession and capitalism. They ARE the first wildcat strikes in years – and the first awakening of militant opposition to the recession. It IS also cause for reflection that the situation has developed in this way by the unions who have done nothing to express workers’ anger over jobs, pay etc – and this includes so called Left unions.
Surely then the Left should be intervening, pointing the blame where it belongs at the employers and capital. Also the craven approach by the unions which have not fought back but now put on the spot are disgracefully happy to allow the impression of a narrow chauvinist strike to emerge, which will contain it they hope. Links between workers – foreign and British – should be made, and that should include internationally to stop bosses seeking to undercut the workforce by importing labour whether from the UK or abroad. The strikes can be refocused and, surely, spread to other sectors. The strikes are a litmus test for the Left, let’s not be found wanting.