Communist Youth Organization

The Youth Branch of The Workers’ Communist Party of Iran

Chia Barsen: UK Conservatives attack workers’ right to strike action

The working-class' key historical weapon against the capitalist ruling class is the withdrawal of its labour through strike action. In order for surplus and profit to be generated under capitalism the labour of the working class is necessitated in production. Without labour power, society, as it is under capitalism, will come to a standstill. One of the so called “freedoms” that individual workers, as "free" agents, can claim under a capitalist regime is the “freedom” to sell their labour in the market. It is labour's economic interest to unionize. Unionizing enables the working class to sell its labour at the highest possible price and receive benefits and job security.
After the conservative government’s recent waves of austerity measures in the UK, the Tories are promising further assault on the working-class by taking away one of their fundamental rights: their right to strike action. The new law will enforce limitations on union strike action specifically, public sector workers in key sectors such as health, transport and education can only strike if the ballot is supported by 40% of eligible union members (currently workers can strike if a simple majority reached). This is despite the fact that the Tories have opposed online secure balloting that would have guaranteed increased turnout. This comes after years of media bombardment of the strike actions; framing strikes as “disruptive” and an “inconvenience” to people’s lives rather than revealing the reality: public sector workers’ desperation due to low wages and job insecurity.
Another Conservative/Tories plan includes allowing agency workers to cover strikes. This action will effectively make union strikes ineffective as it undermines the workers’ ability to use their labour as a bargaining tool. Further, allowing agency workers to cover and break strikes predicates the eventual plan of the conservative government to eliminate millions of public sector unionized jobs.
It is not unusual for a hard right conservative party to directly attack the worker's most fundamental right, the right to unionize and strike. However the Tories, confident in winning the coming elections, are doing this openly without guise. This is in part due to the prolonged absence of strong, and publicly present, Left-Winged emancipatory representation. This has left the way open for political parties such as the Tories and Labour to have their way in parliament: taking away all the hard-fought for social services from the British working class.
If public sector workers do not act immediately and boldly they will not be able to survive the next round of cuts. Labour unions in the UK have thus far acted within legal bounds: limiting the number of “illegal” strikes. By making strikes “illegal” the Tories will be able to use the state, such as financially penalizing “illegal” strikes as well as the police force to break strikes, something they are currently not easily able to do. The current political atmosphere in the UK necessitates that public sector workers to set an example for the rest of the British working class.
My suggestion for combatting conservative legislation, should they come to pass, and negative media attention is the following:
It is possible for certain divisions within the public sector workforce to strike without stoppage of public services itself. That is, where possible, workers must take over each service sector during a strike rather than shutting it down and walking off the job. This act will function to demonstrate both symbolically and in effect the power of organized labour and the importance of the public service as a necessity for society, in opposition to its commodification by the capitalist regime.  As a possible example, public transportation workers can provide services free of charge to the otherwise paying passengers. Such change in strike action methodology can go a long way to gain public support and reduce the media's ability to deprecate and criticize strike action. It will also remind the working class that their hands turn the wheels of the capital.
Only with large-scale general strikes that have wide public support can unions change the political balance to their favour. It is only when faced with direct, collective, and organized working-class power that the capitalist regime will reduce or stop its assault on them.

Chia Barsen

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