Get ready for an all-out fight to protect our workers’ rights

Shelly Asquith

The words of songwriter Joe Hill “don’t mourn, organise” may have been used countless times in these last few days, but they could not be closer to the current task at hand. When it comes to our defeat at the polls last week, reflection and analysis takes time, but fighting for the interests of working people cannot wait.

We must be on the offensive already. Labour members are hurting – myself included – but we should waste no time in picking ourselves up and getting on with the fight again because a lot more people are about to get a lot more hurt.

I cannot stress the urgency enough. Within days of the general election, the Prime Minister has already come after workers’ rights. We have heard that previous assurances to keep the UK in line with EU employment rights legislation are likely to be shelved. Boris Johnson also promised new laws to ban all-out transport strikes and block local councils’ ability to boycott particular companies – a demand made by union activists, particularly in relation to pensions divestment.

Johnson previously promised a “level playing field” for UK workers in line with EU legislation, back when he was seeking support of Labour MPs for his deal. He doesn’t need that now. With a majority, those areas previously ‘open to interpretation’ will be interpreted away from our interests.

Looking at the Tory manifesto, we can expect more of the same in the coming weeks and months. It boasts of the ‘Red Tape Challenge’ – an initiative launched a decade ago by the Tory-Lib Dem coalition government, designed to scale back workplace regulation to benefit business. They succeeded, in many ways; but they are not finished with us yet:

“Through our Red Tape Challenge, we will ensure that regulation is sensible and proportionate, and that we always consider the needs of small businesses when devising new rules, using our new freedom after Brexit to ensure that British rules work for British companies.”

So far, so vague. But we must be readying ourselves for this government to attempt to go even further than just rolling back EU employment regulation. If the UK is to become the low-wage, low-regulation tax haven of Boris’s dreams, that’s going to involve an assault on workers’ protections. Offering up the UK as a place to do business will be an easier sell with no European Works Councils, looser health and safety standards and a migrant workforce reticent with fear of deportation.

Solidarity with workplace struggles going forward is not just an important activity for socialists, it must become one of our main activities. Not every concern of working class people is in relation to their work, but it is the obvious place where our movement begins to build and rebuild relationships.

If you are not a member of a union, join. This is the best tool for finding which union is the most appropriate for you. And don’t just join – get active. The more visible and mobilised the unions are in workplaces, the more people will join and the stronger our movement will be.

Support union action. In any given week, there are strikes taking place. Please amplify them. Join picket lines. Send messages of support. Building confidence will help workers’ win and bolster our defence against further attacks on our rights.

Trade unions have called a demonstration in defence of the right to strike outside parliament on Thursday at 12.30pm. Please come and invite everyone you know.

Industrial action taking place soon:

  • Nurses in the North of Ireland will be joined by paramedics on strike today, as they demand pay parity with the rest of the UK, as well as safer staffing levels. The Unite, RCN and UNISON members have conducted action short of strike for the last two weeks.
  • Teachers at Holton Primary School in Barry, Wales, are on strike today and again on January 15th, 16th, 29th and 30th as members of NASUWT protest poor management and work-related stress.
  • Workers who operate the Woolwich ferries will strike for 24 hours on Thursday 19th over a pay dispute demanding the Living Wage, as well as imposed shift changes.
  • Over 100 engineers at Felixstowe dock will strike for two days on 27th and 28th December. The Unite members are in dispute as a number of them face being transferred to an outside company. The union will now also begin balloting the remaining members at the dock.
  • Workers on South Western Railway continue their fight to maintain the role of the train guard and protect passenger safety. The RMT strike last week runs until December 24th, and begins again on Friday 27th December, running until January 1st.
  • Royal Mail workers in an area of Somerset will walk out on December 23rd and 24th as CWU members protest the unfair sacking of one of their colleagues.
  • Firefighters in Surrey will begin industrial action short of a strike from 24th December demanding an end to cuts made to the fire and rescue service in the county.
  • Driving examiners began a strike yesterday that is set to run until Christmas eve. The PCS members, who specialise in exams for lorry driving, are in dispute over attacks on terms and conditions.
  • Drivers on the Tyne and Wear Metro service will strike on Friday 20th and Saturday 21st as RMT demands a better pay offer.
  • Road gritters in Carmarthenshire, Wales will begin an overtime ban tomorrow with strike action considered after Christmas if they do not receive an improved pay offer.
  • More hospitals are facing strike, as indefinite action at St Mary’s Hospital is threatened from February over pay and health and safety issues including uniform provision and immunisation. Meanwhile security workers at St George’s University (part of St George’s Hospital) will strike on January 13th and 14th as their union UVW demands services are brought in-house to ensure parity in pay and conditions.
  • Southend Airport’s baggage handlers, security and others employed by Stobart Aviation have voted to strike over Christmas, as they raise issues over staffing levels and health and safety training, with GMB yet to set any exact dates.
  • Factory workers at Whirlpool in Bristol, where they make tumble dryers, will take their second day of strike action over pay on January 6th.
  • Workers at HMRC in Ealing were on strike last week and will continue their action next month, including on January 31st – disrupting the government’s deadline day for self-assessment tax returns. The PCS members are fighting the closure of their office.
  • Library workers in Bromley have now been on continuous strike for more than six months – the longest-running of any library strike. Unite, which represents the library workers, has issued a damning report of the employer, Greenwich Leisure Limited, and continues to call on councils to boycott the provider.

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