a coalition of cuts, a coalition of resistance

Gregor Gall, professor of Industrial Relations at the University of Hertfordshire, explores the difficulties of forming alliances and coalitions to fight the cuts.

In previous articles for The Commune, I laid out the arguments for, and problems and challenges contained therein, in constructing civil alliances between the providers (via unions) and users of the services in order to oppose cuts in and privatisation of public services. Continue reading “a coalition of cuts, a coalition of resistance”

light at the end of the tunnel

by Alix Arnold, from ILA no. 333, March 2010 – translation by friends of The Commune

Underground Rail Transport in Buenos Aires:
Successful Struggles against the consequences of privatisation

At the peak of the economic crisis in Argentina, workers demanded – and secured – a six-hour day, citing the hazardous nature of the work. In 2005 they fired the starting gun to a wave of wage strikes in Argentina by enforcing a 44 per cent wage increase. After that the workers of the Subte (short for subterraneo: underground trains) made sure that their casualised work-mates in the cleaning and security services would also benefit from these gains. All these struggles would not have been possible with the old union apparatus. After years of underground organising efforts the Metrodelgados have established a new union. Continue reading “light at the end of the tunnel”

‘some past rank and file movements’… and the future?

by Sheila Cohen

Bryan Pearce’s 1959 article ‘Some Past Rank and File Movements'[1] is an intriguing piece, not only because of its date during a period of relative quiescence in the labour movement but also because it puts its finger on almost every issue that currently confronts today’s perhaps even more quiescent – or at least less powerful – working class.

Paradoxically, the piece begins with two de rigeur quotes from Leon Trotsky which in turn muddy two of the central points Pearce’s account later indicates. This is largely because of the conflation which Trotsky, like so many other writers, makes between trade unionism in its aspect as organiser of class resistance and as bureaucratic institution through – again like almost every other writer in the field – referring to both aspects under the same rubric. Thus: “The trade unions of our time can either serve as secondary instruments of imperialist capitalism for the subordinating and disciplining of workers… or, on the contrary, the trade unions can become the instruments of the revolutionary movement of the proletariat…” Continue reading “‘some past rank and file movements’… and the future?”

facing different ways?

by Professor Gregor Gall, University of Hertfordshire

In recent weeks, the RMT union has put out a number of important calls to the union movement. First, it called for an emergency meeting of the TUC general council in order to develop a planned and pro-active collective response to the austerity package announced by the coalition government. Second, through its general secretary, Bob Crow, the union made a rousing call to arms at its annual conference for ‘general and co-ordinated strike action across the public and private sectors to stop their savage assault on jobs, living standards and public services.’ In this, the union said ‘The unions must form alliances with community groups, campaigns and pensioners organisations in the biggest show of united resistance since the success of the anti-poll tax movement. Waving banners and placards will not be enough – it will take direct action to stop the Cameron and Clegg cuts machine.’

In other words, the RMT was calling on the union movement to take Greek, French and Italian lessons through mass mobilisations. Yet, in the same two weeks as these developments, the TUC general council agreed to invite David Cameron to address its congress in September. There was only one dissenting voice on the general council (that of the FBU). Initiated by TUC general secretary, Brendan Barber, the general council members bar one accepted his logic that the TUC and union movement should engage in dialogue with the new coalition government. Here it seems that for the TUC it is pretty much business as usual in as much that the TUC wants to be accorded the status of a social partner by the new government even though there is no chance of that – certainly less so than there was under the ‘new’ Labour years. Therefore, the union movement can be said to be facing at least two different ways. Continue reading “facing different ways?”

building alliances against cuts and privatisation of public services

by Gregor Gall

There is an old anarchist saying: ‘No matter who you vote for, the government still gets in’. The result of the 2010 general election puts a new complexion on this old saying for no matter which of the mainstream parties was elected to government, the result would lead to the same outcome in regard of cuts in public services and further privatisation of these.

In the election, three parties only differed on when, where and how much on these two central issues. The elephant in the room of the 2010 election was neo-liberalism. It was never discussed, being the unspoken and unacknowledged baseline upon which all the three parties operated.

Continue reading “building alliances against cuts and privatisation of public services”

rank and file organising: it could happen here too

by Sheila Cohen

April 2010 saw the biggest conference ever for Labor Notes, the US-based rank and file trade union newsletter and network which celebrated its 30th birthday last year. Over 1200 activists gathered in the (unionised) hotel just outside Detroit where corporate blandness was set off by the T-shirted exuberance of American workers not shy of yelling a slogan or two – especially when workers on strike against a non-unionised branch of the same hotel chain came forward to tell a familiar story of rank injustice and betrayal.

It’s impossible to take in everything at a Labor Notes conference (especially if you’re jet-lagged) but I followed my main interests in attending a chain of workshops addressed to union organising and membership participation (or lack of it). The first of these – “Innovative Organising Strategies” – was if anything the most inspiring, featuring the crucial dynamics of organising a union “before the union came along”, as some US activists have put it. Continue reading “rank and file organising: it could happen here too”

the heroic origins of may day

by Mark Harrison

On 1st May we celebrate the achievements of organised labour, but how did this tradition start? These origins take us back to America’s revolutionary socialist history and the struggle for the eight hour day.

At the October 1884 convention of the federation of Organised Trades and Labour Unions, a resolution was passed unanimously which stated, “that eight hours shall constitute a legal day’s labour from and after May 1, 1886” and called for a general strike to meet these ends. There was great support for the cause and the American working class duly answered the call of the OTLU: more than 300,000 workers downed tools across the country. Chicago was the centre of the movement, 40,000 were out on strike and the city stood still. Continue reading “the heroic origins of may day”

the ‘spring of discontent’ and beyond

by Adam Ford

The UK general election is just five weeks away, and though all major parties are committed to massive cuts in spending to cover the bankers’ debts – the figure of 25% is being bandied about – it’s still not clear whether the reds, blues or even the yellows will hold the balance of power.

British Airways cabin crew and civil servants have recently taken strike action, and a rail stoppage had been planned for Easter. Meanwhile, right wing commentators such as Melanie Phillips – as well as the Conservative Party itself – are claiming that Labour’s reliance on the union’s political levy will stop them imposing the post-election cuts demanded by the ruling class. This is despite Gordon Brown labelling the BA strike “deplorable”. Continue reading “the ‘spring of discontent’ and beyond”

cheers to bureaucracy: it’s CWU’s round

by Jack Staunton

The well-attended CWU Capital call centre branch meeting on Wednesday evening plumbed the depths of bureaucratic and non-participatory trade unionism. A glorified piss-up, the branch ratified a bewildering array of officers and rules of functioning with no discussion.

Whereas the attendance at the meeting must have reached nearly 100, the meeting lasted a mere 11 minutes and even that was only thanks to two contributions by SWP members demanding that the election for Membership and Recruitment Officer be preceded by a hustings. Continue reading “cheers to bureaucracy: it’s CWU’s round”

a labour of love? cut the union link

editorial of The Commune

As the general election nears, millions are worried by the sweeping public sector cuts planned by all three main parties.

Labour and the Tories’ plans are not the same. Gordon Brown’s government plan a more gradual process of cuts in public service provision and jobs.

However, the intention of this policy is to avoid stalling UK plc’s economic recovery by cutting the budget deficit too fast. It is not borne out of a desire to defend or promote free and high quality public services, still less the jobs of those working for them. Labour’s cuts will not seem too benign or ‘gradual’ to the 20,000 council staff due to be made redundant this spring. Continue reading “a labour of love? cut the union link”

manchester class struggle forum, 1st april

The second Manchester Class Struggle Forum will host a discussion on trade unions and trade unionism.

After the collapse of the global financial bubble, the working class is being made to pay. In Britain workers have started to fight back, in the form of a series of one day strikes. There are stories in the media warning of a return to ‘union power’, but what does this mean and is it a good thing for the working class?

The meeting takes place from 7pm on Thursday 1st April at Friends Meeting House, 6 Mount Street, Manchester M2 5NS. Email uncaptiveminds@gmail.com to express your interest or ask for more info.

Continue reading “manchester class struggle forum, 1st april”

attacks on workers’ self-organisation in germany

by Mark Harrison

Whilst trade unions in Britain are on the receiving end of landmark anti-union legislation, the same is true for low paid workers self organising in Germany.

On Saturday members of the Free Workers’ Union (German section of the IWA) staged a demonstration at the Berlin International Film Festival at New Babylon Cinema, to highlight the fact that workers should decide how they organise, not the state. This is in response to the fact that the FAU is now effectively banned as a union. Continue reading “attacks on workers’ self-organisation in germany”

the continuing assault on the unions

by Bill Butlin

As the general election approaches both the Labour and Conservative parties aren’t saying much about what they plan to do to trade unions. Why is this?

The silence reflects a pro business consensus in the two main parties, that ‘disorderly’ and ‘illegitimate’ collective action by workers is a pathology that harms business, employees and the consumer. And was it not that son of Thatcher Tony Blair himself who boasted loudly that ‘The Labour Party is the party of modern business and industry in Britain’? Continue reading “the continuing assault on the unions”

british airways staff voting again on strike action

Today came the news that the Unite union has lost its High Court action to try and overturn British Airways’ attacks on staff. Yet after BA’s court injunction stopping a Christmas strike, a new ballot for action continues, as Gregor Gall reports.

Unite, and its cabin crew branch, BASSA, are currently locked in a truly titanic battle with BA. Unite is reballoting for strike action, with the result due on 22nd February.

The litany of what BA has engaged in to break the cabin crew’s will to resist has got longer and longer. Since the New Year, this has included recruiting strike-breakers from existing employees, threatening to end benefits of strikers and encouraging the establishment of a yellow union, the Professional Cabin Crew Council. Continue reading “british airways staff voting again on strike action”