Thursday, 20 May 2010

The High Court backs down, but the fate of workers is still in their hands

It now looks as though the planned British Airways strikes will go ahead in one form or another. A panel of senior judges has overturned the injunction won by BA after an appeal by the union.

As BBC News report;
BA was granted an injunction on Monday after the High Court ruled that the Unite union had not reported results of its strike ballot correctly to members.

But Unite appealed against the decision, and the panel ruled 2-1 in favour of overturning the injunction.

Strikes are now free to go ahead, possibly from as early as next week.
This is good news. However, it is by no means an absolute victory. For one thing, the injunction against the NUJ remains unchallenged, and members of Aslef face a similar prospect. For another, although in this case Unite has won, the outcome still leaves the final decision on whether or not workers may withdraw their labour in the hands of the judicial system.

The former problem is one that can be tackled immediately, if the will exists. Quite simply, workers and unions need to show solidarity with one another and support each other when faced with such things. The sentiment that an injury to one is an injury to all needs to be rekindled.

This is important not just in the case of the High Court blocking the right to strike, but also in the savage attacks on the working class that are to come. In yesterday's Guardian, PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka made the argument that "these battles will be fought in workplaces and communities, and will need to be forced into parliament" by a co-ordinated campaign, not just a single union going it alone. He is not wrong, and the case becomes more urgent as the Con-Dem government establishes its credentials with warm applause from the class of people who will profit from our misery and destitution.

The second problem will be harder to address, as it goes to the heart of the culture that has developed in the wake of Thatcherism. Encouraging unions to work together is one thing, rebuilding the consciousness and culture of solidarity of the working class is entirely another. The latter cannot be done through proposing motions at conferences, but only by determined organising at a grassroots level.

We need to inspire the strength of will in the unemployed that saw the Jarrow Crusade of 1936, so that people do not simply capitulate to the new deal and hope that a job they can afford to take will come along eventually, but that they stand up and demand it from a state which does much to demonise and nothing to help.
It was in the Daily Mail, of all places, that I found this apt comment;
Most long term unemployed are older workers, often highly skilled, including teachers, technicians, scientists and engineers who are unemployable because their qualifications and skills command higher salaries, that employers do not want to pay and most of all they are over 50 years of age. Employers prefer to import skilled, qualified young people willing to work for the basic minimum rate until they also move on.

There is no retraining for these older workers, they are usually more highly qualified and skilled than the trainers, so where do they go? They could be made to clean out canals, (quite an enjoyable job) but this is really a shear waste of their talents and as most HR interviewers are pre-programmed to reject anyone over the age of 50, they are in a vicious spiral.

TV's, 'Britain's got Talent' couldn't be more true, Britain has shed-loads of talent but prefers to keep it digging out canals rather than producing products and as a result, more jobs for others.
There are too many workplaces and industries which remain unorganised, from pubs and clubs to door-to-door sales. We need to spread the ideas of self-organisation and collective strength to those workers and find ways to beat the challenges offered by casualisation. This also offers us the opportunity to promote non-hierarchical organising structures and mass meetings of workers over back-room deals by bureaucrats.

This needs to be the approach within established unions as well. A strong anarcho-syndicalist voice inside can speak to the great many trade unionists who see the failings of traditional union structures but do not know what the alternative may be.

If such a thing were to happen, it would be a hell of an accomplishment. Riven by splits and dominated by middle class intellectuals more concerned with theory than practice, the left doesn't appear up to the task. But workers are - if anything substantial is to change it will change on the streets and the picket lines, not on the pages of magazines or periodicals whose acticles appeal more to academics than to activists. The people who articulate a socialist future most passionately and most convincingly are those who can do so without being able to quote Marx or debate the finer points of Trotsky's "transitional programme." It is through those who take direct action, not those who talk dialectics, that we will see any substatial change.

If we want to see the workers' movement break free of the yoke of a repressive, anti-worker legal system, rather than occasionally bending it in our favour, we need to rekindle the will of the working class to defend themselves.