Socialist Worker

Glimpse of mood for a workplace fightback

by Esme Choonara
Issue No. 2129

Dock workers in Dover are joined by other trade unionists earlier this month (Pic: Socialist Worker)

Dock workers in Dover are joined by other trade unionists earlier this month (Pic: Socialist Worker)

As attacks on jobs, pensions and working conditions grow, the question of whether workers can fight back against them is a crucial debate.

Yet a series of current disputes, from Aberdeen to Dover, give some sense of both the mood and the determination that exists to fight.

Hundreds of port workers in Dover are set to strike for three days from Thursday against the harbour board’s plans to hand 190 jobs to private companies. This follows a two-day strike last week.

Several hundred bus drivers at Stagecoach Bluebird in Aberdeen and across the north east of Scotland struck on Friday of last week over pay.

Meanwhile more than 3,500 Scottish Water workers are set to strike this week to demand better pay.

Trade unionists and activists will be protesting in York on Saturday against job losses and closures at the Remploy factory, the post office and the job centre.

And Ford workers in Southampton were to take to the streets on Wednesday to defend jobs at their plant.

For millions of workers the economic recession has brought a volatile mixture of fear and anger.


One striker in Dover who has worked at the port for 30 years summed up the feelings of betrayal felt by many.

“For years we have worked really hard for this company and accepted what they threw at us,” he told Socialist Worker.

“Now this is how they treat us. Just when everyone has seen the failings of the market, they want to sell off our jobs.”

This same mixture of fear and anger is clear in many of the other disputes – fuelled by the widespread feeling that workers are being made to pay for a system in crisis.

Tony is one of the workers who led an unofficial walkout against lay-offs at Fords Southampton last month.

He told Socialist Worker, “Workers have been sold houses at vastly inflated prices, and then sold endowment mortgages as a way to pay for them and as a great way to save for old age.

“Then years later you find there is no money. You’ve been ripped off by the banks, pension funds and insurance companies. You’re told change is inevitable, but you’re the only one doing the changing.

“The bosses are doing the same old thing year after year – and that’s ripping you off.”

Most workers in both the public and the private sector will identify with a growing anger at the fact that they are not valued or respected for their work.


The picket lines in recent disputes gave a glimpse of the spirit and determination driving workers to fight back.

During strikes by London bus workers last month, there were picket lines of up to 200 people at some garages.

In Dover over 100 workers joined the picket on the first day of the dock strike.

These examples of resistance may be relatively small compared to the size of the attacks that we face. But they offer a glimpse of what is possible and how growing insecurity and bitterness create flashpoints of resistance.

Other workers should get behind these disputes to build wider solidarity.

However, these strikes also beg a bigger question about the scale of the fight that we need to build.

That is not a question of people’s willingness or ability to fight. Much of it is affected by the leadership shown by those at the top of the unions.

This is a political question. Some union leaders argue that workers won’t fight in a recession because they fear for their jobs, or that strikes would go against a “national interest”.

But groups of workers are fighting back. Thousands more have voted in favour of action – only to see union leaders refuse to act. And compromising with the bosses or the government in the name of a “national interest” only leads to more attacks.

We need to urgently take on these arguments – and building the strength and confidence of rank and file activists will be key to winning them.

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Article information

Tue 25 Nov 2008, 18:29 GMT
Issue No. 2129
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