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Strikes—don’t just wait for a ‘summer of discontent’

This article is over 1 years, 7 months old
The potential for a wave of strikes is becoming ever greater—but we need to do more to make them a reality
Issue 2814
The Unison union bloc on the TUC march in June 2022. Marchers carry placards reading 'If pay doesn't ride we will' Strikes

Will public sector trade unions respond to a pay cut with strikes? (Picture: Guy Smallman)

There has been a sizable shift this week with many workers rejecting low pay offers and preparing for strike ballots. Trade unions across Britain including Unite, the CWU and Unison have warned bosses and the Tories of a “summer of discontent”.

With the Tories pulling themselves apart this is the best time to exploit their weaknesses and strike, protest and rebel to kick them out. It’s not enough to stand back as spectators to their crisis, or simply applaud the Labour Party as it responds with nothing more than posturing and manoeuvring in parliament.

There’s no guarantee that the Tories’ current crisis will lead to their government’s collapse. They’ve been through many crises in more than a decade in government—yet they keep managing to cling on.

Boris Johnson was able to comfortably block Labour’s attempt to table a vote of no confidence in his government last week. He followed it up with a vote of confidence of his own—which he won.

Yet Labour is happy to keep the Tories’ crisis confined to parliament, where it can pose as a responsible government in waiting. Shifting the battleground from parliament onto the streets and workplaces is the way for us to win.

The National Rail strikes last month lifted workers, trade unionists, campaigners and many ordinary people. It showed that we don’t have to simply accept pay cuts—and that we can have more than Labour’s tepid opposition to the Tories.

That can happen again as workers in the Aslef and TSSA unions are set to join the fight next week, followed by BT workers in a pay fight of their own. We need more of the same much sooner than autumn or winter.

The all too familiar pattern—consultative ballots followed by weeks of talks, then formal postal ballots followed by weeks more talks and maybe a strike in months afterwards—falls far short. At the very least there should be more strikes and protests.

The TUC union federation gathered tens of thousands of workers on the streets of London last month to “demand better”. The protest boosted confidence among workers to fight and strike for pay.

Now the government is likely to impose a 5 percent increase—that’s a six percent pay cut—on public sector workers. Surely public sector trade unions should be able to respond with joint protests and action.

And as the rail workers next walk out, local campaigners and activists should organise rallies and demonstrations. Rail unions’ leaders should call action together in the future.

We don’t yet have the “summer of discontent”—and if we sit back and wait for it, it may never happen. But the potential to make it—and some real victories for our side—is a growing reality.

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