Socialist Worker

Why workers are right to strike during the general election campaign

by Charlie Kimber
Issue No. 2680

Mainstream newspapers are panicking about the potential for strikes

Mainstream newspapers are panicking about the potential for strikes


For at least some days during the election campaign the pictures will be strikers with placards, not politicians behind podiums.

Big strikes are due to take place.

Such moves are wholly welcome. At a time when everything is focused on voting, they can infuse the political struggle with a genuine class feeling of resistance.

Tory MPs are screaming about workers daring to walk out during the election.

Philip Hollobone, the hard right Tory MP for Kettering, said, “Anything that disrupts the election such as calling strikes puts democracy at risk.”

In Hollobone’s world, democracy means having to give up the basic democratic right to strike.

Strikers are fighting over important workplace issues, but at the same time raising class issues in a sharp way during the election.

In a small way they are breaking down the wall that capitalist democracy seeks to build between politics and economics.

Unfortunately some Labour figures also fear the strikes.

One shadow cabinet minister told the New Statesman magazine last week, “I am hoping they call that post strike off, to be honest with you. It is the last thing we need. And I’ll be telling them so.”

Backsliding 

Such backsliding is part of a long Labour tradition that says the only battles that really matter are the ones in parliament.

And it is rooted in the belief that strikes will harm Labour’s chances.

Of course workers’ struggle is important in its own terms, whatever the electoral impact. But it can boost radical parties.

The rise of Syriza to government in Greece between 2010 and 2015 is inseparable from the 38 general strikes and many other fights that took place.

We will need more strikes and more street protests whoever wins the election. If, horrendously, Boris Johnson is still prime minister after 12 December, only a significant increase in action outside parliament will hold back and defeat his attacks.

University workers headed for eight days of strikes over pensions and pay
University workers headed for eight days of strikes over pensions and pay
  Read More

If Jeremy Corbyn wins, mobilisations will be needed against the inevitable resistance by bosses and bankers to any encroachment on their wealth and power.

But strikes and protests will also be needed to stop Labour’s compromises with the rich and to go beyond the limited agenda set out by the party.

For example, Labour is committed only to reversing the latest round of anti-union laws.

To win repeal of the whole lot—the policy of many trade unions—would take serious extra-parliamentary action.

Union leaders have to be pushed to reject open or behind the scenes pressure from Labour or the TUC union federation to call off action.

If the Tories look set to lose, it is perfectly possible that the corporations and banks will use their extra-parliamentary power to trigger a fall in the value of the pound or a rise in interest rates.

Workers should make no apology about using their power.

And instead of cringing at the thought of class action, every Labour candidate should be on the picket lines and urging solidarity with the strikes.


Train guards are fighting the bosses and the government

Mick, guard and RMT union member, South Western Railway

“I was cheering when I heard we are going to have 27 strike days in December on South Western Railway. It’s a strong programme of action, and we need that.

“The battle to keep guards on trains has been going on at various companies for three years.

“It’s precisely the sort of issue that should be forced onto the agenda during an election.

“The Daily Mail is going for us. Its front page last week was about ‘Christmas rail strike chaos’. But really it’s the company that has forced this now.

“The management has gone back on a potential deal that would have conceded at least some of our demands in opposition to driver only operated trains.

“We want the guards’ role confirmed partly as a defence of 6,000 jobs nationally, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

“But also guards help ensure safety and assist vulnerable passengers, people with children, disabled people. It’s a people before profit issue, very good for the election.

“The whole dispute over guards on trains isn’t just a battle with the private firms, it’s a fight with the government.

“South Western has received at least

£35 million from the Tories as a bailout for lost revenue due to earlier strikes. That’s a subsidy for a class assault. All rail firms that have a dispute over guards should strike together.”


‘It’s good to disrupt’

Gary Smith, early shift rep, South Midlands mail centre

“I’m a CWU union rep in a mail centre, close to Tory Andrea Leadsom’s constituency.

“Loads of people were agitated by the fact she said we’re going to ruin Christmas and that this was all planned to help Labour get elected.

“People at work are realising that if you’re working class and you stand up for your rights you don’t get treated well in the media. It has got people’s backs up.

“We announced our ballot before they called a general election—our agenda was set.

“But it’s right to cause disruption. The media will harp on about us ruining Christmas.

“But we’re fighting against a crusade to smash our trade union, split up the business and make a fortune.

“All we’ve got is the leverage of being able to withdraw our labour.”


‘Austerity was a choice’

Paul, UCU union member at University College London

“This is a good time for us to strike because people become a lot more political when there’s a general election.

“My fear is that it will about Brexit the whole time.

“But we need to talk about all the other issues and what the Tories have done to people.

“Now there’s an election, Boris Johnson has suddenly found a magic money tree and he’s making all these promises.

“It just shows that austerity was a choice.”


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