Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 52 Number 15, June 18, 2022 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Government Confronts the Power of the Workers' Movement with Police Powers

Faced with an historically large national rail strike, the largest since privatisation, involving some 25,000 workers (members of the RMT union), the government has drawn up plans for new legislation to make such strikes illegal. The Sunday Telegraph and the Mail on Sunday reported at the end of last month that the government is to make illegal "any strikes that did not provide a guaranteed 'minimum service' to limit disruption to passengers", and to hold union leaders liable for damages.

This is a direct attack on workers' rights, using the opportunity presented by a strike of these proportions to attack all workers' rights.

"Any attempt by Grant Shapps to make effective strike action illegal on the railways will be met with the fiercest resistance from RMT and the wider trade union movement," said RMT general secretary Mick Lynch. "The government need to focus all their efforts on finding a just settlement to this rail dispute, not attack the democratic rights of working people."

Nor is it an isolated attack. Just a few days before that, the Fire Brigades Union accused the government over attacking workers' rights following the publication of a white paper entitled "Reforming our Fire and Rescue Service" on May 18. "At the heart of this White Paper," points out FBU general secretary Matt Wrack, "is the threat of an attack on workers' rights by undermining collective bargaining and a proposal to remove frontline firefighters' voices." Through references to "cumbersome industrial relationships" and asserting that "a series of national agreements (the 'tripartite agreement') had to be painstakingly negotiated" during the early stages of the Covid pandemic, the paper seeks to undermine the longstanding National Joint Council made up of local authority and trade union representatives as well as the tripartite agreement between the FBU, National Employers and the National Fire Chiefs Council that has been in place for the past two years, according to the FBU, who have condemned the paper as "false and insulting".

There have also been reports of arrests of trade unionists, in what appears to be a push for the use of police powers following the passing of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act. On May 27, police in East Sussex arrested three trade union officials - Gary Palmer, FTO Declan MacIntyre and a local representative - and charged them with obstructing the highway during their attempt to prevent strike-breaking at an official picket line outside a Biffa site, during a dispute over pay and conditions. They are due in court on June 29.

The following day, RMT Union Belfast branch secretary Danny McQuaid was arrested at a demonstration against P&O at Larne Harbour. He was later released without charge.

It appears that the government is going on a new offensive against attack workers' rights, particularly union rights and the right to strike, to facilitate strike-breaking, and so on.

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "Threatening the right to strike tilts the balance in the workplace too far towards the employers. And it means workers can't stand up for decent services and safety at work - or defend their jobs or pay. We will fight these unfair and unworkable proposals to undermine unions and undermine the right to strike. And we will win."

These attacks on workers' rights show that the government is having to confront the power of the workers' movement at this time. In these large actions and others, which are only set to increase in size and frequency in conditions of spiralling price inflation, the workers' movement is revealing itself as a force demanding recognition.

Workers are speaking out, they are presenting solutions to the crisis, and they are coming forward with their demands. As the trade unions put it, workers demand better: they are demanding change, and in particular, a change in the direction of the economy.

The government is being forced to respond, and its response consists of refusing to recognise and recognise any rights whatsoever, pushing on with its programme that favours the interests of the rich and attempting to silence the workers' movement. It goes without saying that this does nothing to address the increasing disequilibrium in the social relation between employer and employee referred to Francis O'Grady; indeed, it serves to create further disequilibrium.

The workers - such as the rail workers, for example - are not a special interest group, as the government asserts. They have maintained their social responsibility, especially during the pandemic.

Only the working class holds the solutions to the crisis. It is in the recognition of their rights and the rights of all that the future lies. They are a force to be reckoned with, standing against privatisation, concerned with the future direction of society and the economy. It is essential that the workers continue to speak out, in their own name, and develop their independent thinking and outlook. They should demand the power to do this, to present their own solutions, and demand that they be implemented. We congratulate them in their struggles, which are giving workers the confidence to achieve their pro-social aims.

(Sources: Union News, TUC, The Independent, Trucker World.)


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