Westside Action

a motley crew of anarchists and activists from Bristol, Bath and South Wales

A Trade Unionist-Climate Camper on the Wildcat Strikes.

Intro: While there has been much talk within the anarchist newswires, and meetings, responses and counter-responses, none of the people I have had contact with actually had been to the picket lines, or indeed has previous interaction with the workers concerned. Hence, this is why I publish the below which  is not the anarchist dialogue you may expect on this blog

“This week has been phenomenal. I hope it is an epiphenomenon in some ways, in others of course not. I feel like I have to say from the outset: up class struggle. Down the bosses. Down the union mis leadership. I have got home tonight and caught up like every night this week with a lot of writing on this wave of strikes: I just want to sum up my little journey – I’ll try and be brief. I’m going to leave out things that incriminate my own organisation, because apparently that’s what we do, apart from when it concerns me (and that’s the least of the group’s political problems).

Friday, I can barely remember that morning. Or anything before last Friday at the moment. (I stopped to think a moment, 50p sparked a thought). I got to London Bridge, and spent my last 50p (give or take shrapnel) on an Evening Standard. I only ever buy it when it is whipping up race hate, so I can keep on top of what some tube passengers read. The headline, more or less “Mass walkouts over foreign workers” I stopped dead. I’m not easily perturbed. There’s a genocide of my people going on, but I’ve kept a level head and done what I could do. I haven’t been hysterical, wailing at the left to do something. There’s a lot of things going on.

This headline is everything you dread, if you’re me. For the last year I’ve put down nearly every bit of activity that I’d been sampling as part of my GCSEs in activism; I thought it’s time to focus: I chose three main things. Being a Workers’ Liberty organiser, a Campaign Against Immigration Controls activist and a Workers’ Climate Action activist.

For the first, this means a hundred things, a hundred different responsibilities, schedules, spheres of activity, politics. The other two have been a joy to watch grow and develop, not without their difficulties and setbacks. All three – and my life – I brought to this issue of the strikes. After I calmed down, and put out of my mind roughly might be called all the CAIC repercussions, I put on my trade union hat. I know the issues. It’s been brewing up for ages. this does not diminish a massive attack on migrant workers and black people, a massively reactionary strike in some ways, but at the core is a labour dispute, major class action that marks the start of the fightback. What a terrible start. Look, of course this is fantastic strike action, fantastic solidarity. Whether or not the union leadership are being written out of this too much, I can’t tell yet. It smacks of them. There were union banners not just lone placards that carried the British Jobs for British Workers’ slogan. Anyway, the trade union issues I talked through with one comrade, apparently in the know.

Nothing he told me was new to me as such, only I’d never heard anyone be so incoherent about it. The Posted Workers stuff, the ECJ Viking and Laval rulings I’d known of. From Climate Camp and WCA I’ve been and spoken at Grain and Hoo, I’ve hung out in the pub there trying to speak to workers about Kingsnorth. A new AWL comrade, also involved in CAIC and WCA, came away agreeing that the main next step there was to do a CAIC meeting, not a WCA one. I don’t know how much this ruling has a bearing on any of this. As far as I can see the maximum demands of the constituent European Union bureaucracies up until this point has been for better provision for cross europe trade unionism. There is a particular UK grievance, which stems from New Labour not the EU. Why has New Labour not enshrined national union-employer agreements in law ? We know why. I’ve long thought the union strategy here was reactionary. I.e because labour costs are higher here, and polish workers cheaper, it was only necessary to fight for same terms for migrant workers, to ensure they wouldn’t arrive in the first place, in one of the few industries still protected from non-white workers and women.

The union on strike this week is hardly the Builders’ Labourers’ Federation. Apart from the fact, and I could be wrong here, that these are mainly skilled and highly skilled workers, our existing socialist organisations, none of them, are up to the task of what Jack Munday and his comrades did for the New South Wales BLF. It is worth standing them up against this week, and remember that one of our biggest enemies is close to home, in the union leadership. Derek Simpson must go now, no money, no pay off. Out! He has been demanding BJ4BW for years! I should stop the analogy there, because though my economics is bad, they grew in and because of a capitalist boom. Better maybe to look at the Lucas Plan to see what this strike might have been. But again that’s silly. We’re heading in to a global recession, of a scale we’ve never seen before.

While it’s probably true that the existing British labour movement has attacked every wave of migrants that have arrived on this little corner of the world over time, and the capitalists exploited it, I can’t help but feel the eventual result has been progressive. The fact that each wave of migrants has been made an attack on existing workers and their security (hundreds of thousands of refugees are detained, abused and deported) has made solidarity difficult each time. I’ve argued against pro-migrant/internationalists/socialists etc putting “racist” in front of every mention of immigration controls. Yes they are racist (I won’t explain here) but it just doesn’t help to have people think their support for immigration controls is racist, and in this support the BNP. Lots of people don’t consider themselves to be racist, and good; do I want them to think they’re racist because they support immigration controls no. I can see all around me the manifold challenges of working-class life and migration. We want working-class unity, and we work not in conditions of out own making.

I’ve known for a while what’s been brewing in Grain. One of our comrades flagged up some weeks ago, the strikes that took place/were due to take place over this same issue, concerning Polish workers. I’m going to have to skip lots of things and return to the left. What we should have been saying/doing straight away: –These strikes are for jobs. -These slogans are an attack on migrant workers and Black people. Point the finger at the bosses. Point the finger at Brown and Simpson. Though neither of the latter can be totally to blame for British nationalism. Brown would have known this was a National Front Slogan, the slogan of fascists across the world, racist and always sooner or later anti-working class. But I remember thinking that that speech (which wasn’t a budget speech, but his LP conference on apparently) was partly designed to stem the slightly weird English nationalist sentiments and doubts the media kept on talking about. I wonder now. – We can’t see these workers sent back to Italy. This would be a disaster. The repercussions could be frightful, a rallying cry to fascists across Europe (they do exist, remember, even if the BNP are fascist lite at the moment).

All this discussion of do you or don;t you support it, whose side are you on, – has been profoundly unhelpful. At one point a comrade called me a scab, several accused me of calling on the bureaucracy to smash rank-and file action. Pure hysteria, but I’ll explain my mistakes later, or some of the ones I can talk about. – We need to find a way in the short term to keep the Italian workers here and for workers to be able to keep their jobs. – Also, and this felt impossible, under the slogans, this action needed to spread for all of us, but also for these workers. As far as I understand it a lot of the Viking-Laval issues had been sorted, I can’t say for sure, but it seems so. The SP communiques served as cover, for god knows what. They didn’t add up. What were the aims of the strike when it was organised. It wasn’t spontaneous. It was organised and must have happened under the nose of the bureaucrats. We can say that it was organised by the union now can’t we, because everyone is crowing over this brave breaking of the anti-union laws.

They forget in their joy to mention the police and the posties who also did a bit of this recently, neither of which raised reactionary slogans. Anyway, so what were the demands that people struck over? That the jobs go to the UK workforce, no? there must be at least a ‘fair share/deal’ for “UK workers”? What does this mean. why has Derek Simpson and the SP, the CPB, now the SSP, argued that this is what must happen. none of them are arguing for jobs for all as far as I can see. The demand for Italian workers’ unionisation seems a PR move as much as anything else (for the left as much as anyone else), as is the 50:50 conception of equal rights. this is a disaster. I can’t help but feel that it must have been the bosses that have save us here, for now. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but the union victory was negotiated and won to the tune of not just 50/50 but a little more to the Brits! note the joke from the Unite negotiator on the Italian England manager being able to stay – quoted in the Workers’ Power statement on the deal reached. I didn’t find it funny.

Apart from the closing paragraphs of the new Workers’ Power statement, and the fact that they really seemed to eclipse the fact that this is at root a fight for jobs where you live, I think their political assessment is correct, though like the strikes themselves, all of this has to be seen in motion, this whole thing from the start had to be seen in motion, continuing and changing reality all the time. It was an important moment in our history, I think. I’ve never felt like I’ve been in a minority of four. I’ll pick up other points later, I don;t know why I always feel like I need to say it all. Actually the main thing I wanted to say was put your fucking fascist attacks away. Then I remember I was a class struggle socialist and Marxist. What guided me was my own sense of class struggle, my own sense of solidarity. I could write volumes on this word, solidarity. It must be the most difficult and most necessary word in this language. I think our left needs to learn a lot about solidarity, class solidarity, and democratic and critical solidarity. I have been more or less silenced this week and have come under attack heavily. Main conclusions: keep your friends close, and your comrades closer. This left is a racist left, in the main. We are so weak that we could have turned a terrible page, with some people denying it entirely, bully the rest of us to agree that we are utterly inspired. Look, I am inspired, sort of. It shows what might be done.

The way I chose to frame it, after a lot of thinking and soul-searching was in the form of a picket of the Unite offices. Whether to ask for the strikes to stop was an open question. I had a mandate from the CAIC meeting to call for that. I think that would have been wrong but fair enough. In the end we supported the strikers but not their seeming aims or slogans. To do this, does not requre just going to appeal to the workers on their picket lines. I will not beg for this. It has more of the character of a protest and a demand. how dare they raise those slogans. how dare the union not rescind them, apologise for them, but rather defend them. I do not paint the workers as rabid nationalists, though I would guess only a minority in that trade, in that union section aren’t at least mildly so. Any way the point is not to abstain: I want to defend migrant workers who have already been fucked by both the unions involved in equal measure to organising them. the GMB sponsors the immigration minister, who also insisted that to fight racism you must say British workers first… I want to defend job for all workers, no group of workers should be displaced against their will, there can be no job losses accepted anywhere. The GMB have been stamping on a strike in NW London of mainly Indian women, perhaps this was to free up some personnel. This small workforce has had some 50 lay-offs, another 50 threatened. The union mafia are colluding with the bosses in getting rid of union activists. On the buses in London, the union lied to workers about an injunction to save the government on October 22nd. The RMT called off the Andy Littlechild dispute without a murmur from anyone that should have coincided with the buses.

I would like to know how people account for these episodes.

For those who draw the class lines so sharply this week, why did we not call the RMT, the NUT, and the PCS scabs for coming out against Heathrow expansion, when it was not their union members whose jobs could be kept through expansion. Why was Bob Crow not called a scab on the international working-class when he came out for Kingsnorth.

Anyway, back to the real difficulty apart from our own inconsistencies: the workers’ jobs. We need to think hard about what to do now. The problems we have faced have their origins. It’s not just because we have a race to the bottom EU. That we do. How are we going to build meaningful rank-and-file workers’ solidarity across the world – not just Europe. This issue now, is not so different to what off-shoring has been, and all the other displacement migration has caused for all working-class people. What is our positive solutions to move beyond the impasse that is the nationalism of nearly all working-class people, which reflect many things, the fact of the nation state and national governments, for one. The fact of really existing unionism being on a national level, if that, and only in a few core industries testament to industrial strength and a strong protectionism, craft-unionist mentality. Migrants and bureaucratic union attempts at coordination are probably the two things already given to internationalists. Migrants being the most important. I can;t believe that so few people saw fit to take some action that made a clear act of solidarity with Italians and all migrants. Under the circumstances, whatever the reasons, our unions have raised fascist slogans. Going to their picket lines to support workers cannot to my mind be the only response. There should also be an outcry from the movement. People have a strange idea of how you defend your class, what constitutes an attack. Black people and migrants are part of this movement too. I should spare a word of criticism for the middle-class socialists who vacillated every which way, the root of their problem being that they are still anti-working class, sometimes after years in the movement. They cannot be honest about our class, because they have never really believed in democracy and grassroots socialism. What the workers don’t know, we can tell them. If they don’t know already, and they fuck up, it’s our fault. Our little groups must issue statements of revolutionary leadership from London. I think we just about all failed the test. Good I say.

So much to say, so early in the morning. In conclusion, it’s difficult forming a position, but it’s possible to take action, if we don’t shut the space down ourselves. solidarity is not fine art, though it can be. We need to find ways of resolving this dispute. It is not over. I can’t see an obvious thing to demand. The critiques about fair share along the lines of nationality, I can’t even begin to say how much I oppose this, I imagine everyone will. I hope this whole chapter on our left, won;t stop comrades from doing what’s necessary to make sure that we fight utterly this trend developping. I honestly can’t sum up what needs to be done, and locally and nationally different strategies will have to be deployed. Certainly, we should not bandy around European unity as a slogan like some in the movement talk of stopping climate change. We need to have a purchase on reality, how will be build European solidarity as strong as the solidarity demonstrated by the workers this week. how are we going to reconcile the need to fight union busting via posted workers, but also avoid the SP solution of a local register!

There has to be a sane way of addressing this. I think the slogan the AWL raised is the most satisfactory, Jobs or Full Pay / Jobs for all. And the right to direct employment. Workers’ schemes to be deployed abroad as workers’ not bosses wish. Or something like that. It feels impossible at 5am, I’m seriously going to read the transitional programme this week, finally workers of the world unite. Like the phoenix may the left emerge form our sectarian mess. Where would we have been without some socialists this week. Where might we have been had been been united some time ago. Left unity cannot be an empty slogan.

Our internationalism cannot be internationalism of slogans to be tucked away, nor that of abstention and utopianism. solidarity with migrant workers is the obvious first step.

No comments yet»

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: