‘we are fighting for now and for our future’

editorial of issue 13 of The Commune

As The Commune went to press the news media was dominated by coverage of the 6th May General Election. Both in mainstream politics and among the left there is much discussion of the policies of Labour, the Tories and Lib Dems.

Yet in reality there is little choice in the election. Parliament does influence our lives, and yet barely half of registered voters will vote. There is widespread disillusionment but no alternative in the election.

We believe that workers’ self-organisation is a far more important means of changing society. PCS, RMT and Unite members are all organising to stop the cuts planned by all three major parties.

One recent example of struggle was the  international day of action against Swiss bank UBS, which via contractor Lancaster has imposed an effective 10.75% pay cut on its cleaners in the City of London and sacked shop steward Alberto Durango.

The protests were called in solidarity with the cleaners’ demands for stable working conditions, the sacking of the contractor and the reinstatement of Alberto Durango. Demos were held in London, Zurich, Edinburgh, Manchester, New York, Buenos Aires, Kyiv and Stockholm.

Despite a lack of official backing from the Unite union, these migrant workers are standing up against the election consensus. Resisting the cuts agenda, attacks on immigrants and politicians’ love-in with the banks, their struggles show a different idea of politics: resistance from below.

Jerry Hicks
Candidate for Unite general secretary

We need solidarity and strength in numbers of trade unionists and non-trade unionists, of campaign groups, pensioners, workers and the unemployed, all those who will be facing the wrath of the cuts to come. The employers who mete out the cuts, victimisations, their fear and intimidation: this will be met by our wrath. Our wrath of solidarity.

There are millions of us. In my union, 1.7 million trade unionists. If we all spat together we would drown UBS in the flood.

In weeks to come will be the General Election. Whichever party gets in they offer cuts: savage cuts, £75 billion worth of cuts, and the Tories promise to be the most unpopular government since the Second World War within 12 weeks of office. Not one of those parties would offer the repeal of anti-trade-union-laws or offer reinstatement for victimised workers.

Steve Kelly
Unite construction branch

Unite construction workers support this campaign 100%. We recently wrote to Steve Hart, the union’s regional secretary, who said these people demonstrating are anti-union. When we got this letter back: well, I’ve never heard so much rubbish in all my life.

Where is Steve Hart, where is Derek Simpson, where are the leaders of Unite? Not here, as usual: they never turn up on any demos, they leave us hanging out to dry. I’d appeal to you to write from your branches demanding that Steve Hart get behind Alberto and support his members in struggle. Instead of swanning about talking with employers, how about coming out and supporting their members? That’s the name of the game, that’s what we’re all here for.

We support you 100% Alberto, and you are more than welcome at our branch. The same for all cleaners, indeed, any worker in struggle. It doesn’t matter what union you’re in, as far as I’m concerned any union member deserves the backing of all unions.

Victory to Alberto, victory to the cleaners!

– 26th March saw a similar protest at University College London, addressed by a worker victimised by contractor Office & General because of the cleaners’ demand for a ‘living wage’.

Juan Carlos Piedra
victimised cleaner activist

Today is another day of struggle for workers’ rights. Along with the demonstrations in solidarity with Alberto Durango, we want to tell the companies that we are not going to allow any more discrimination and victimisation against cleaner activists.

We are sure that the UCL students, unions, teachers and admin staff at UCL will back that call not to allow the violation of the rights of workers here on this campus. We are also part of the wider campaign against cuts in public spending: we are fighting for now and for our future.

NEXT UBS CLEANERS’ DEMO: 5pm, Friday 23rd April, 100 Liverpool St, London

One thought on “‘we are fighting for now and for our future’

  1. The problem with all of these instances of workers self-activity is that they represent a dead-end. As marx said about such Trade Union struggles workers have to engage in them as a defensive act, but should not give them too much priority, precisely because they are just that defensive measures, palliatives that take workers forward not one jot. And as he and Lenin said they cannot spontaneously develop a class conscioussness out of such struggles, precisely because the only ideas they promote, the only conscioussness they develop are bourgeois. They develop a sectional conscioussness that says they have to push their own interests in their own workplace or industry, which is immediately, therefore, opposed to a CLASS conscioussness. Indeed, every strike hits other workers interests directly through loss of services, goods etc. Only if worekrs go beyond the strike, to occupation, workers control etc. as happened in France in ’68 does that begin to break down, but that does not happen very often. It cannot be a basis for a strategy to develop a class cosncious working class.

    In short such Trade Union action is just as reformist as Parliamentary action. In order to develop workers class consciousness it is necessary to break out of such defensive responses, and instead to pose directly a working-class alternative to the very situations that cause workers to hav e to engage in such defensive acts. The Occupation is one such approach, but only if it is linked to the idea of then restrating production under workers control. But, that then raises the question of how long can an Occupation last under such conditions. It raises the question of ownership of the means of production. In reality, unless we are talking about a revolutionary sitiuation, which do not come along very often, and where they have, I would argue there were conditions that are even less likely to arise in future – in short most have been related to conditions not of proletarian, but of bouregois revolution – workers control can only be sustainable in conditions where workers own their means of production. The experience in Argentina I think demonstrates that where workers have Occupied they have to demand that the property be transferred to their ownership. demands for nationalisatin under such condiions are reactioanry, because they are demands that the workers give up what they have effectively seized into the hands of the most powerful capitalist, the capitalist state!

    We can only develop class consccioussness on a political not an industrial basis. That means gradually raaising workers level up via a Workers Party. We have to accept that every real Workers Party will reflect the existing level of class conscioussness. That is why the LP holds such right-wing views at the moment. It is the function of marxists not to simply revile those ideas, but to change them in the same way that a teacher does not reject a backward student, but tries to find ways to take them from where they are to a better level of understanding. But, ideas are also a condition of material conditions. Workers will never acccept he basic ideas of socialism so long as the basic ideas of Capitalism – private property, competition, profit, wage labour – appear to be natural and eternal laws. Workers are practical people. If we want to get them to acceept some different set of ideas we have to show that those ideas are practical, that they work. You cannot do that if the limit of your activity is merely to fight defensive battles to advocate reforms, still less to ask them to place their faith in the Capitalist State to bring those things about, through nationalisation etc.

    That is why as marx said the establishment of Co-ops by the workers self-activity was so important. It is not a defensive but an offensive act. It breaks the cycle of merely having to deal with the problems that Capitalism creates for the worker. It demonstrates in practice that private property is not the only option, not eternal. It demonstrates that workers caan efficiently manage the means of production. It demonstrates that the competition between workers that forms the basis of their exploitation is not natural. To the extent that such Co-operatives are part of a larger Co-op Federation – particularly if developed on an international basis – ddemonstrates that sectionalism is not necessary, that workers have common interests across industries and across national borders. To the extent that they integrate the activities of all Co-ops, and link themselves to workers Communties – preferably also based on a Co-operative form – they show that Competition can be first used, and then controlled and superceded, and that profit does not have to be the main driver of production, but that production can be directly geared to meeting social need.

    In other words, even at first on a small scale – though the extent of Co-operative production globally can now hardly be described as small scale, they employ more people than do the multinationals – they change the material condiitons in which ideas are formed. They demonstrate in practice that the ideas of the socialists are prasctical, that they work, and work better than the ideas of Capitalism. But, simply changing the material condiitons will also not automatically produce socialist ideas, socialist conscioussness. That again is the function of the Workers party to draw out those ideas, to illustrate the meaning of those new material conditions. It is the function of marxists within those Workers Party. It is also their duty to warn the workers that the bosses will not simply allow that process to continue unnopposed. It is their duty to explain, therefore, that just as they can only exercise control over the workplace if they own the workpalce, they can only control the State, and the way it interenes in society, if they likewise own the State. That just as a Co-operative enterprise is something totally different than a Capitalist enterprise, so is a Workers State something totally different to a bosses state.

    If we really want to offer workers self-activity, we should make sure it really is an alternative, and not just a reworking of the limited reformist politics of the last 100 years, with just a maximum programme of revolution tomorrow tagged on to salve our consciences.

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