The growing economic chaos in the system carries with it one certainty – the bosses and New Labour will try to make us pay for it.
The government’s commitment to neoliberalism already means job cuts, privatisation and slashing public services. Gordon Brown is also determined to push through his below-inflation pay limit. All of this will be driven harder as the economy totters on the edge of recession.
Brown’s wage crackdown is part of his long term strategy to restrain pay – for workers rather than bosses.
His push for three year deals for public sector workers is a serious attempt to cut the standard of living for workers, but it is an enormous gamble.
Governments have tried to impose pay freezes in the past. Each held for the first year, only to rapidly unravel.
Brown is relying on the union leaders to hold back workers. He is so convinced that these leaders won’t fight that he is prepared to take on the entire public sector in one go. However, the rising tide of anger over pay means he is far from guaranteed to succeed.
Across the workers’ movement union leaders are verbally committed not just to resist pay cuts but for united action. But to turn this rhetoric into action we can’t just sit and wait for those at the top to act.
We need to increase the pressure from below. That means at very least we can all campaign and unite around five demands:
- Support any group of workers which is fighting back.
- Fight for coordinated action against government attacks.
- Oppose any pay offer under the rate of inflation (currently 4 percent).
- Refuse to sign up to any three-year pay deals.
- Campaign to stop shovelling union money to a Labour government that is attacking us.
There is deepening anger after a decade of Labour’s betrayals. Every dispute at the moment is marked by a political radicalisation.
A major block to effective action continues to be the allegiance of most union leaders to New Labour. To break through this activists need to build every struggle within the wider political context.
One key event will be the Stop the War protest on the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq on 15 March. Every workplace should have meetings about the war. Every activist should petition and leaflet their workplace and others.
We need to revive habits such as taking collections and building solidarity for disputes in our workplaces.
Taking delegations from workplaces to visit picket lines demonstrates in practice how solidarity can be built. The most immediate opportunity for this is the PCS civil service workers picket lines next week.
We should look for every opportunity to build up the confidence of workers to fight back. For instance, the battle in Birmingham council over the rotten single status deal raises opportunities.
It could hold back the attempts to push through privatisation in the council as well as getting a decent deal for workers over equal pay. This could transform the confidence of workers to fight over pay.
Building a political rank and file can help recreate a new, fighting workers’ movement. And that will be our best defence against Brown’s attempts to make us pay for this chaos.