Britain: A gradual development of workers’ militancy
At the time of writing a number of workers’ struggles were developing up and down the country:
- on the railways, 900 South West Trains workers staged a 24-hour strike in protest against management strike-breaking tactics in a previous dispute, and further strikes could take place in September. Workers on the Heathrow Express were also on strike in a separate dispute;
- in the health sector, there has been a series of strikes by domestics, porters and catering workers employed by Rentokil Initial at Whipps Cross hospital in Leytonstone, London. They are demanding the same pay and conditions as NHS-employed workers. The strikes have been escalating from one to two to three days and the next one could be five days and/or indefinite. Striking workers have gathered in large numbers at the entrance to the hospital, providing the opportunity for other hospital employees, hospital users, and workers from other sectors to discuss with them and express their support.
- in the fire service, Merseyside fire fighters began a strike at the end of August that could last 8 days or more. The workers are angry about massive cuts that will lead to job losses and shift changes that will increase working hours. Anger has been further fuelled by management attempts to operate a scab service
- in the post office, workers have been going though a long drawn-out rigmarole of balloting for official action over job losses and other issues, but the discontent of the workers has exploded into spontaneous action in a number of centres in the last few months: Plymouth and Belfast in March, Wolverhampton in May, Oxford in July.
The most recent of these outbreaks in the postal service was at Exeter mail centre, where 300 workers walked out quite spontaneously after a local union representative was accused of taking fake sick days and was docked pay as a result. Postal workers employed at Exeter airport came out as well.
The fact that workers have walked out in defence of a union rep has been used by leftists like the SWP to present this as a strike for ‘trade union rights’. No doubt many of the workers see it that way, but at the same time they are fighting against the victimisation of a fellow worker and against management bullying in general.
These strikes are still very dispersed and fairly well-controlled by the trade unions. But there is an overall change of climate in the class struggle, not only in Britain but internationally, as illustrated in particular by the massive movement of young ‘workers to be’ in the French schools and universities in the spring, by the mass assemblies organised by the metal workers of Vigo in Spain, by the current struggles of miners in Chile, car workers in Brazil, education workers in Mexico, and many others. A key element in many of these movements has been a growing recognition of the need for class solidarity, and we have seen this again in some of the current strikes in Britain. It is this recognition that will lead workers to try to widen their struggles beyond the immediate limitations of workplace or union membership. Amos, 2.9.06