Friday, 19 February 2010

A call to militancy

Two months after I last reported on it, unions have finally announced that it will ballot steel workers on possible strike action against the mothballing of the Corus steel plant on Teeside.

According to Unite, "the mothballing of Corus’ Teesside site is a disgraceful charade. The union has reason to suspect that Corus never had any intention of selling this plant and they now intend to close the site which will have a devastating affect on the local community, which has a rich 150 year heritage of iron and steelmaking." The GMB, quoted by BBC News, echoed this by saying that "the decision to mothball the plant suggests that Corus did not really want to keep it open or sell it to another steel company." Not only would there be 1,600 immediate job losses, but a further 8,000 workers in jobs dependent on the plant would also be put at risk.

Business Secretary Peter Mandleson "maintained the plant will be protected by the company, with a view to re-opening once a buyer has been found." However, the inaction that accompanies platitudes from Gordon Brown that they are "desperately looking" for investment should say it all about the government's stance here. Whilst the bankers who crashed the economy are worth £1.5 trillion, the workers who keep it afloat are worth nothing.

The Corus closure is just the latest incident in the redeclared class war that has come with the recession. If we want to face off these attacks, then we need to recognise that much more dramatic action is needed. The GMB is asking members "to respond" to this incident on the basis that it is "bad for Britain and for our manufacturing industry," but there is so much more at stake.

The time has long passed for action within individual industries to be effective. Employers are combining their efforts to cut costs and maximise profit at the expense of those who generate it, and the government offers tacit support. Workers need to take note of this, and combine their efforts, even in spite of the union leaders who stick rigidly within the confines of Margaret Thatcher's anti-union laws. Last year, oil refinery workers broke the law by walking out in wildcat strikes, and 645 were sacked. However, this sparked further walkouts across the country and the workers burned their dismissal letters in defiance. Ultimately, they were reinstated, showing the power of broad-based working class action in the face of prohibitive laws enacted in favour of the bosses. But, because of their position and self-interest, paid union officials, leaders, and bureaucrats cannot and will not support this. It has to be done around them.

If we are to fight back in this class war waged by the rich, then there can be no question that we need to restructure worker organisation and resistance so that it comes from below. And, with all workers living under this threat, we cannot carve out the struggle along traditional trade and sector lines. The only viable next step is General Strike.