Thursday, 19 August 2010

The case for a workers' struggle not constrained by the law

The strike is the latest development in a long period of unrest in the country. This includes the Transnet transport workes' strike, wildcat bus strikes, postal strikes, construction strikes, and the high-profile strike by match stewards during the world cup. Not to mention the ongoing shack-dwellers' struggles

This latest strike is a response to pay negotiations with the government. The state offered to increase the monthly housing allowance, but refused a pay rise above seven percent.

However, as Al-Jazeera's Haru Mutasa says the resolve of the strikers is strong;
They say they see politicians living lavish lifestyles, they question why there was money for the football World Cup [staged in South Africa] and say they are tired of corruption allegations in government departments and that they will not put up with it anymore.

They are saying that they are not going back to work until their demands are met and that they don't care how long the strike drags on.

It's going to have a big impact. Schools are shut down … we've heard people have barricaded hospitals. If this strike drags on a lot of people will become the casualties of the strike action.
This is in sharp contrast to Britain, where tough talk isn't matched by action.

For example, the latest upcoming action is a "lobby" of the TUC conference in Manchester, organised by the National Shop Stewards Network.They are still trying in vain "to convince our trade union leaders of their power, which could potentially stop this government in its tracks."

According to the blurb on the event's Facebook page;
We need a national demo in London on a Saturday with all TUC affiliates giving it top priority. A national demo could set the tone for a one-day public sector strike, marking the beginning of a serious fightback against these vicious cuts.
To call this lacklustre would be a bit of an understatement. As the Spanish CNT has argued, single-day actions amount to little more than "gesture strikes."

A 24-hour strike, assuming that the mainstream unions even call one, "would act only as a giant safety valve for employee discontent." Instead, "the only possibility for correcting this situation is to fight this economic aggression through social confrontation, to continue and expand protests to all sectors."

This involves following South Africa's lead and making any strike action indefinite;
An indefinite general strike paralysing the country until the government withdraws anti-worker and anti-social actions would by contrast act as a binder for workers to recover their class consciousness and act together, with an eye to the destruction of the capitalist system through social revolution which is the only truly effective medicine against congenital diseases of the system. 
One reason that such a thing will not happen under the stewardship of the TUC unions is that they are hamstrung by this country's anti-strike laws.

Since December 2009, employers have used the High Court to block the Christmas British Airways strike, the Easter rail strike, and a Johnson Press strike. A further injunction against BA workers was overturned, and a threatened action against Aslef never reached fruition.

At the start of the month, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development recommended that ministers tighten the law on strike ballots even further, in line with Vince Cable's thoughts on the matter.

As well as a myriad of technicalities surrounding ballots, which applied politically would have seen this country without a government for several decades now, the laws also make both general and indefinite strikes a pipedream.

It is, at this juncture, far too late to lobby for a change in the law. Even if it were possible to do so within an extremely short time, no politician would be stupid enough to restore legal rights for organised workers whilst launching full-scale attacks on our class. It would be suicidal. Even if it did happen, it simply leaves orkers in the same position if and when such a change were reversed.

Changing the law shouldn't take up our time and energy - but the fact that they exist should. We can no longer ignore the fact that the only legal actions are those that are largely ineffective.

The push now has to be for "illegal" actions that can have a serious impact. To win this class war, we need sit-down strikes, occupations, wildcat walkouts, and blockades. We must build networks of solidarity and walk out in support of other struggle. And there cannot be any limit on the length of our actions beyond the strength of our resolve and our ability to raise strike funds.

As the attacks on the working class become more tangible and the rhetoric from the left gets more heated, the law remains the elephant in the room. If we do not address it, we will remain hamstrung by it. Thus, any "serious fightback" will be dead before it begins.