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The stakes are too high for union leaders to squander the fight back

This article is over 8 years, 2 months old
Issue 2377

Bosses have scored a victory at Grangemouth and they would like to make it a model for the rest of us. They would like us to believe that the only way to save jobs is to sell conditions. They would like us to believe that decent pensions for all are an economic impossibility.

They would like us to believe that workers’ whole livelihoods can be wiped out at their whim.And that we have to succumb to every demand they make—and be grateful for having any job, whatever the conditions. 

These are the lessons the bosses would like us to learn from what happened at Grangemouth.

The terrible deal that billionaire Ratcliffe was able to force through without resistance from the union leadership of Unite sets a dangerous precedent. The danger is that this deal will be sold as representing all that workers can win in the current period. 

This doesn’t just matter for workers in big oil refineries or petrochemichal plants. It affects workers everywhere. 

If bosses think that unions are going to roll over in the face of attacks they will take everything they can. But we don’t have to accept cutbacks and ever worsening conditions. 

We have a huge untapped collective power that can stop the Tories’ and bosses’ attacks. We have to fight for our union leaders to lead action and escalate—not back down when bosses retaliate. 

The regional teachers’ strikes showed a huge enthusiasm for a fight and for all teachers to be called out nationally. Yet now there will be no national strike this year on the basis that Tory minister Michael Gove appears to want to talk. This risks throwing away the momentum of the dispute. 

Gove will not give away anything unless he faces sustained opposition, not just fragmented action spread over many months. And teachers in their thousands want to see action that can win.

This week the firefighters’ FBU union leadership was forced to put the strikes back on after pressure from below. It shows that ordinary union members don’t have to accept their leadership’s retreats. But it also shows the opportunity to build unity. 

Now one of the FBU strikes is set to coincide with a national postal strike. Imagine the impact if the PCS civil service union, teachers and others were to join them.

Organising for rank and file workers to have confidence to force their leaders to lead, and fight independently if they won’t, is not something that happens overnight. There are no short cuts. 

But it is the only way that the anger and bitterness that runs deep in austerity Britain can be turned into struggle that can beat the bosses and the Tories. 

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