Ronan McNabb asks what avenues are open to the working class to defend themselves against these at-tacks and ultimately in the struggle to overthrow capitalism?
For the past two years we have been living with the reality of capitalist crisis with the biggest attacks on living
standards since the 1980’s through mass layoffs, attacks on pay and conditions, spiralling unemployment, cuts
in services and attacks on claimants. With no sign of the crisis easing and all parties vying to undertake a pro-gramme of cuts larger then that of the Thatcher government as soon as the formality of the general election isover. While this does indeed paint a bleak picture of the shape of things to come, it would be fatalistic to believe
that there is nothing that can be done to resist these attacks. In fact there have been inspiring, although limited
developments in the recent past that point in the opposite direction. There have been encouraging signs in the
series of strikes that occurred recently such as the Visteon factory occupation, the strike movements in the oilindustry that originated at the Lindsey oil renery and strikes at Royal Mail. During the course of these struggles
there have been obstacles and traps used by trade unions and the capitalist state to blunt their effectiveness and
keep them within the connes of legalism and the trade union framework.In the past six months, court injunctions have been used to stop strikes happening at First Bus, Network Railand British Airways (BA). The court decided that there were irregularities in the ballot procedure, stopping theBA strike at Christmas time. This effectively ends the possibility of legal strikes, especially considering that oneof the reasons for the court injunction on the strike on the railways was it would have a ‘negative’ impact on the
public interest. The increasing impossibility of legal strikes is interesting because these procedures for ballotingwere made compulsory by the Thatcher government to stop workers making the decision to strike in mass meet-ings, where solidarity is strongest and force workers to make the decision to strike as individuals like voting inparliamentary elections. Accompanying this were the laws that made the autonomous action of workers through
secondary picketing and solidarity strikes illegal. Now the ruling class is placing restrictions on ofcial trade
union actions due to an increasing reality that in order to stabilise the economy they might have to shut down thevery possibility of industrial action at all, thus reducing trade unions to the role of those in the old Stalinist andFascist regimes of ensuring labour productivity targets are met and more generally enforcing capitalist order on
the shop oor.
Trades unions from their inception were not revolutionary organisations, they were formed as defensive organi-zation of the working class that negotiated the terms and conditions for their members. However as moderncapitalism developed to the point we are at today, where monopolies and state capitalism (i.e. a tendency for the
increased role of the state in the management of capitalism) dominate the world economy. It is no longer the
case that individual companies compete with each other for dominance in the marketplace and where the statenow acts as a national capitalist and protector of the national economy. Where previously workers in one com-pany could withdraw their labour and outlast their boss, because his competitors would be a threat. This situationof free competition is over.Simultaneously there has been a trend to integrate trade unions into the structure of the capitalist economy,where they participate in national state planning through the industrial relations apparatus and other institutions.Thus adopting the role of managers of labour agreements, once signed their task is effectively that of policing
the workforce. Making sure that employers and more importantly workers live up to their ‘obligations’. Unionsprevent strikes, not cause them. By and large unions are successful in preventing the damaging and costly forms
of workers resistance such as strikes, but also go-slows and absenteeism. To summarise my basic argument is
that trade unions as legal, permanent, mass organizations wedded to the state, can’t support secondary actions,never mind initiate it and they can’t politicise struggles.The tasks for all militant workers and revolutionaries is to ght for a political perspective that says that workers
need to struggle outside and against the union machinery, in order to effectively defend themselves and developthe consciousness and organisation that will be necessary for the working class to overthrow capitalism. As well
as forging the struggle for a to a single unied communist organisation. It is also important that workers who
agree with this perspective organise in networks of militant workers, to defend the perspective that strugglesshould be controlled by workers through mass meetings and revocable strike committees and act as a militant
presence in the workplace to argue for the extension of struggles when they arise.
Can trade unions defend workers?
Our struggles must not be held back!
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