Saturday, 3 July 2010

To fight the coming battles effectively, workers need to look beyond the TUC

Bob Crow, General Secretary of the RMT, has called 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." He says he is "up for a fight" against the "fiscal fascism being unleashed by this ConDem government."

This has suitably outraged the Daily Mail, declaring that "militant" Crow "threatens to unleash a summer wave of militancy which would bring the country to a standstill." It warns that this "comes as a key member of the Bank of England's interest-rate-setting committee said Britain could be plunged back into recession" and approvingly cites the CBI's reccommendations for even more stringent anti-strike laws. 

However, whether Crow - or the other union leaders who backed his words - can do anything which will have a lasting impact is questionable at best.

He is right that "waving banners and placards will not be enough," and "it will take direct action to stop the Cameron and Clegg cuts machine."However, we will not see "hundreds of thousands of workers ... take to the streets" under the TUC's leadership.

The TUC and the unions under its banner are essentially massive bureaucracies which mirror corporate structures. At a rank-and-file level, you have a lot of committed and extremely effective activists, but the people at the top are long-detatched from the realities of life as a worker, the bureaucrats are unelected, and decision making is done from the top-down.

Union officials will refuse to fund unlawful solidarity or wildcat actions, and use official backing and strike pay to turn action on and off like a tap. With funding and resources centralised, they will hang workers out to dry rather than violate repressive and unjust labour laws.

As part of that system and those structures, I can guarantee that Bob Crow's words will not match his actions.

Even PCS, of late the most militant and willing to fight of any union, is constrained by this reality. Mark Serwotka has said that "We will work with the RMT and others to organise local and national opposition to these cuts that are being driven by ideology, not necessity." But he is part of the Tax Justice campaign. 

Its aims seem laudable enough. But by saying "instead of cutting public services we argue that the government should invest in this area to tackle the economic crisis," they are conforming to precisely the ideological framework Serwotka decries.

The economic crisis is nothing but the inevitable result of a corporate capitalist system. If we want to fight it, we don't need a "fair alternative." We need a massive, grassroots campaign of industrial and community action without regard to either laws designed in favour of the bosses or the pragmatism of overpaid bureaucrats.

If trade unionists genuinely want to fight back, this is what they should be pushing for. Not by begging for orders from the top, but by rallying for action at the bottom.

Where officials deny action, mass meetings should force it. When bureaucrats cut off strike funds, local whip-rounds and benefit events should replenish them. And if full-timers concede to management or government to bring an action to an end, the rank-and-file should ignore them.

Most importantly, actions that are legal, such as one-day strikes, should be overridden by those that are effective - occupations, wildcat and indefinite strikes, even sabotage and more creative things such as good work strikes.

If Bob Crow really wants "direct action" and "general and co-ordinated strike action," then he should lead by example. Give up your perks and boss-sized pay packet, Bob, and come agitate at ground level with the anarcho-syndicalists.