Britain’s Summer of Discontent Isn’t Over Yet, Marc Lenormand (Le Monde Diplomacy)

Mick Lynch of the RMT Railway Union, King’s Cross station, London, 25th June 2022

Wiktor Szymanowicz Anadolu Getty

S.Ins During the summer, Britain was hit by an unprecedented wave of strikes. The main demand of workers is higher wages. Inflation he has hovered around 10% since July, a rate he hasn’t seen since 1982. Union members voted overwhelmingly for industrial action on the docks, railways, post offices and urban areas of Felixstowe and Liverpool. Public transportation and manufacturing. Some employers quickly gave in, but sometimes in manufacturing, it was just a threat to take action. It also ended an era dominated by constitutional issues such as Scottish independence.

The British press called it a “summer of complaints”. This refers to his 1978-1979 winter of discontent, when multiple strikes defeated the austerity policies of James Callahan’s Labor government and helped collapse it. However, this summer’s action is very similar to his 1972. (1)when Edward Heath’s Conservative government tried to curb wage increases, sparked a wave of industrial action involving miners, railroad workers, dockworkers, and the construction and manufacturing sectors.

Underfunded tax cuts for the wealthy were the straw that broke the camel’s back, but it was the energy price cap that pushed the camel to its breaking point

Keel Milburn

The UK economy has been de-industrializing since the early 1960s, a trend that has escalated especially after the currency crisis and recession. Since the mid-1970s, conflicts in the private sector have declined. The winter of discontent of 1978-1979, in a sense, passed the baton from the private sector to the public sector. The Ford workers and truckers’ strike was followed by a public sector strike. The Tories, who were in power from 1979 to 1997, wiped out the union’s traditional strongholds. In the mid-1980s, a militant miners’ and printers’ union collapsed in a bitter dispute. Energy and telecommunications companies were privatized later in the decade. Local government, education and health then became the arena for social conflict.

This year’s wave of strikes is notable because anti-union laws severely restrict industrial action. It was introduced under Margaret Thatcher and her successor John Major, retained by the Labor Party, and since 2010 has been further strengthened by the Conservative Party. It prohibits non-specific demands such as workplace lockdowns, sympathy strikes, and protecting pension rights. Individuals who violate these laws risk being fired and unions can be prosecuted. A strike is neither an individual right nor a regulated collective action. The union has a duty to organize and supervise it.

“Fight for the Working Class”

For a strike to be legal, a union must vote for its members, ensure turnout of more than half of the eligible voters, and obtain at least 50% support from voters (and 40% of voters). % all eligible voters in key sectors of the economy). Since the spring, large participants and overwhelming majority in favor of the strike have ensured that, even if the workers have not emerged victorious, at least the strike has not been abandoned. But the regulatory framework effectively limits action to sectors where unions are powerful enough to initiate conflict. In 2021, 23.1% of his workforce in the UK was unionized, but this figure masks a big difference. Just over half of public service workers are union members, while in the private sector he is less than 13%. (2)Wage progress therefore depends on action by a small number of union bases in the private sector, such as transport, docks, manufacturing and post offices.

If so, Mick Lynch, general secretary of the major rail union, the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT), argues that he can justify fighting for the entire working class in Britain. can. By declaring that “the working class is back”, he evoked a vision that could unite the British working class after his decade of austerity (a recent study found that he 330,000 deaths have been attributed to this). (3)But it is also an attempt to reverse the decline of trade unions that began in the 1980s and bring social issues back into public debate.

The last wave of industrial action in the UK came during the recession following the financial crisis of 2007-2008. (Four)In 2008, in the final stages of the new Labor government under Gordon Brown, the public sector went on strike over wages and wildcats in refineries against competition from continental companies that employ outsourced and agency workers. The strike prompted the Conservative media to talk about a “summer of discontent”. Then, between fall 2010 and spring 2012, the austerity measures of the Conservative-led coalition led to large-scale strikes and demonstrations in public services. However, student protests occurred against the increase in tuition fees.

By the time these protests subsided, independence issues had grown in importance in Scotland, as evidenced by the demolition of the main ‘Occupy London’ camp in February 2012. After Scottish National Party (SNP), Scotland’s main pro-independence party, won an absolute majority in the Scottish Parliament in May 2011, Scottish Prime Minister Alex Salmond claimed to have a popular mandate, and in 2012 An agreement was reached between the Scottish and British governments in October 2014. Hold an independence referendum by the end of 2014. Shortly after, in January 2013, David Cameron promised to hold a referendum on his EU membership in the UK if the Conservative Party wins the 2015 elections.

This marked the beginning of a long phase of focus on constitutional issues in British politics.The issue of Scottish independence and nationalist opposition to the EU polarized the debate over the question of identity, leading the United Kingdom At the same time, these divisions, combined with a decline in social conflict since 2012 (the UK recorded its lowest number of days of strikes in history in 2015), have led to a rise in social problems in nationalist terms. It clarified the path to be rebuilt and appealed to some people. of the working class.

The SNP has been on the left since the 1980s and has benefited from disillusionment with the Labor Party. In the 2011 Scottish parliamentary elections, it won strong victories in the working-class neighborhoods of Glasgow and Edinburgh. Such a result did not necessarily imply support for independence in the same way that voting for Labor did not necessarily equate to voting against it. The September 2014 referendum, which recorded substantial support for independence (44.7%), reflected a renewed polarization of the Scottish political landscape over independence, confirmed by subsequent polls. .

The 2016 referendum on EU membership caused further polarization between Brexit and Remain, shaping British politics until at least the early 2020s.The EU issue also gave the Labor Party a problem.The 1980s It has since been pro-EU as a bulwark of protection.Although it opposed Thatcherism, its left continued to resist European liberalism. The left wing of the trade union movement, the RMT, backed the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) in favor of Brexit. In the 2009 European elections, RMT launched the “No2EU-Pro-Democracy” alliance, working with the Communist Party and others to provide a leftist critique of the EU. (Five).

strained relationship

Unresolved issues remain after Brexit and Scotland’s second independence referendum could be held next year, but this phase of British politics will end with the December 2019 elections, with Boris Johnson treated this as effectively a second Brexit referendum. The Tories reestablished themselves as the new “People’s Party”, promising to “level up” the north of England. Soon after, the Covid crisis shifted focus to the state of the National Health Service and market failures. has been completed.

But all this happened at a time when the trade union movement and the Labor Party were out of step. Since its creation in 1900 to give the labor movement parliamentary representation, the party has occupied the central space on the left. This is reinforced by strong organizational and financial ties with large unions. This relationship worsens when the Labor government fails to meet union expectations, and improves when the party becomes an opposition and unions see it as a political outlet for their demands. The union gave financial and organizational leverage to trade unions in the 2015, 2017 and 2019 elections. Jeremy Corbyn has come under intense attack from within the party even before he took office as party leader in 2015, but he has taken a firm public stand from Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, a major private sector trade union. had support.

This close bond has grown much weaker since Keir Starmer became leader and set the line during Corby’s era. Trade union leaders tolerated being left behind in the cold and neoliberal turn of the party under Neil Kinnock, John Smith and Tony Blair in the 1980s and 90s, but Starmer ‘s recent party statements are resolutely left-wing and determined to assert autonomy from the party.

This was also true for RMT. The RMT was kicked out of the Labor Party in 2004 after some members of the union supported radical left-wing parties. But that also applies to unions that still belong to the party: In 2015 Dave Ward, general secretary of the postal workers union CWU, promised “no more blind loyalty to workers”. was elected to Sharon Graham has pledged to refocus resources on action at work as she replaces McCluskey at Unite in 2021. The attitude of the Labor leadership has reinforced this dynamic. Sturmer initially banned members of the shadow cabinet from even joining railroad workers’ picket lines, and his main focus was to present the Labor Party as the company’s bosses’ best allies.

Polls suggest Labor may be winning moderate voters. The Conservative party’s credibility, the attack on the pound and the UK debt have all given credence to Starmer’s strategy. Attempts to bring in “tax cuts that weren’t offered were the straw that broke the camel’s back,” suggests scholar Kiel Milburn. [energy] A price cap loaded with camel to the breaking point. But Milburn added that the measure, estimated to cost £150bn, was announced in early September under the threat of a boycott of the energy bill. (6)The “Don’t Pay” campaign mobilized hundreds of thousands of households and the “Enough Enough” coalition brought together trade unions, associations and Labor MPs with a list of calls for action to tackle the rising cost of living. .

Unions are aware of their own weaknesses as well as the limitations imposed by the institutional framework and are looking for new allies. These alliances are necessary given that Treasury Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced his return to austerity on Oct. 17. And that may entail further crackdowns on unions. Britain’s Summer of Discontent Isn’t Over Yet, Marc Lenormand (Le Monde Diplomacy)

Back to top button