Wages fight is crucial

by Daphne Liddle

THE LEADERSHIP of the giant union Unite has emerged defiant and ready to do battle with the ruling class at its industrial sector conference in Brighton this week, after last month’s bruising defeat at Grangemouth.

The need for unions to increase their resistance was made painfully clear by Prime Minister David Cameron’s remark this week that the current austerity measures “should be made permanent” and the Government should remain “thin” — even in the event of achieving elimination of Government debts.

He was telling the workers of this country that now they are on their knees with living standards plummeting, that is where they belong and they can never again look forward to better times or the level of services we once had because the ruling class want to keep all the wealth to themselves, permanently.

And as for “thin” Government, support services may be eliminated but the repressive arms of the state, the mass surveillance, the police and the armed forces will have to get a lot fatter if they are to try to contain our justified anger.

In this situation the working class in Britain needs its unions and labour movement to be strong and capable.

Len McCluskey, the general secretary of Unite, speaking to the conference said: “

“Today, we meet in the middle of a vast media witchhunt against our union, reminiscent of the 1970s and 1980s. We are facing unscrupulous smears from both media and politicians. Every day we read statements and press articles about Unite which do not come within hailing distance of the truth.

“This shows one thing above all: Unite is making a difference. We have served notice on the establishment that fighting trade unionism is back — and the elite don’t like it.

“Of course, there is another agenda behind these attacks too. We are a proxy for smearing the Labour Party and Ed Miliband, since the same elite is now worried that a Labour government which may itself not play by the old rules is a possibility.

“They will continue because that is the Lynton Crosby agenda — the genius behind the racist ‘go home’ vans touring our cities; the man who believes the Tory path back to power lies in demonising the poor, the disabled, the vulnerable; the man imported by David Cameron to poison our national life so he can get a new tenure on Downing Street.

“I have confidence that the British people will not fall for the ugly Toryism that Crosby is peddling — and I am absolutely certain of one thing — Crosby, Cameron and their kind will never break or browbeat this trade union into submission.”

It was a good statement of intent but everyone at the conference must have been aware of the shadow of the Grangemouth defeat hanging over the union.

Unite has shown that it is strong in supporting trades councils, in supporting community campaigns and in mobilising hundreds of thousands of working class people on single issue campaigns and getting them on the street.

But it could not win that all-important wage dispute in one of our few remaining major industrial manufacturing plants by action at the point of production. Jim Ratcliffe, the owner of the chemical factory and refinery complex, played his cards effectively.

He threatened to close the whole thing and panicked the workforce into fearing the loss of their jobs and the Scottish government into fearing the loss of a pillar of its economy. The pressure to cave in was too much.

But defeats can be recovered from. This one was a lesson in how dirty the bosses can get, something that would not have surprised our great grandparents who created the unions.

It is a lesson that courage and determination are required — and that the battle is probably going to get even dirtier.

And there is no battle more important than the battle for wages — it is at the heart of the irreconcilable difference of interests of the boss class and the working class.

Since the defeat of the miners in 1985 and the end of the Soviet Union bosses have steadily been getting richer and richer but they will never be satisfied until we are all starved. If our living standards are to rise we need higher wages and we must fight tooth and nail to get them until we have defeated the boss class and its capitalist system.