Britain: Millions of public sector workers prepare to strike

Build workers’ movement

As we go to press, up to two million public sector workers will strike against rotten poverty pay on 10 July (J10). Firefighters are launching eight days of action against the pension robbery. Thousands of other workers are taking local action to defend living standards in this so-called economic recovery.

This day of coordinated strike action is long overdue. Pay restraint has been combined with the decimation of public services. The last four years of pay freezes have left public sector workers £3,700 a year worse off on average. Now the government has announced that the pay freeze will continue until 2018.

But, given this strike comes ten months before the next general election, it has even more significance. It is a warning to whichever pro-cuts party or parties form the next government that workers want to fight.

Some capitalist commentators seek solace in the lack of a more generalised struggle against austerity so far. Janan Ganesh, for example, commented in the Financial Times that "the right" have got away with "cuts, already bigger than those attempted by Thatcher." (8/7/14)

But to think that means struggle is off the agenda is utterly mistaken. True, the right-wing trade unionleaders have derailed the struggle, after the magnificent movement that developed in 2011. And true, this has inevitably increased the confidence of the government to step up austerity, and decreased the confidence of workers that it was possible to stop it.

Nonetheless, enormous and visceral class anger has been building up below the surface of society and will, at a certain stage, find an outlet.

After J10 there is no alternative to stepping up the fight against austerity. There is no prospect of the so-called ’economic recovery’ leading to a real recovery in workers’ living standards. Only the super-rich benefit as credit bubbles and the dominance of the finance sector raise the prospect of a new crisis.

J10 needs to be a launch pad for further coordinated action, building for a 24-hour general strike, involving unions in both the public and private sector.

Alongside opposition to cuts, privatisation and pay restraint such a strike should clearly call for an end to zero-hour contracts and for a minimum wage of at least £10 an hour.

This would enthuse and draw in the millions of young people who have not yet been touched by the trade union movement.

A general strike should also demand the repeal of the existing vicious anti-trade union laws.

Labour’s appeals to big business are just more proof that it would also act in the interests of capitalism. It would not even carry out all of the incredibly modest measures it is currently proposing to improve workers’ living standards, unless it was compelled to, like any other capitalist party would be, by a mass movement.

The historic victory for the $15 an hour minimum wagein Seattle shows that workers can win. But it also shows the importance of the workers’ movement building its own ’political wing’.

The election of socialist Kshama Sawant gave the movement for $15 an uncompromising voice in the decision-making chamber to act on its demands.

Socialists appeal to trade unionists to join the fight to make sure J10 marks the start of a new phase of rebuilding such a movement.

The working class is the majority in society, with enormous potential power, capable not only of defending our pay and public services, but also of changing the world.

To do so, however, the working class needs to increase its level of organisation both industrially – via building a fighting trade union movement – but also politically, by building a mass party that represents the interests of our class instead of those of the 1%.

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July 2014