Posts Tagged ‘January 2012’

Staring at another noble defeat? Or an opportunity for a real workers’ victory?

January 6, 2012 1 comment

Apologies for the nature of this post but I feel the need to think out loud.

I read on the Liverpool Echo website today that the GMB shall be calling off their members’ strike action at the end of this month, as after this 12 week period any people taking part in strike action can legally be sacked by Servisair for taking part in ‘unofficial action’. At first this made me feel how the laws are unfairly weighted in favour of the bosses and against the workers. Then, I thought about all the successful instances of workers in the UK taking unofficial action that I had read about. Such as the hundreds of electricians who took unofficial action on the 7th of December. They nationally coordinated this day of action in response to their union calling off an official strike that had 81% of members voting for action, after Balfour Beatty claimed 25 office workers who were Unite members were not balloted.

Unfortunately, this is not one of the pictures plastered in the Servisair buildings at JLA

I also thought about the politics of Left-Communists and the ICC’s pamphlet ‘Unions Against the Working Class’ and if it would be right to state that this shows the bankruptcy of the union framework.
I thought that if I was heavily under the influence of the ICC I might say something like ‘Against GMB bureaucrats! Fight union sabotage!’. Although it is true that a problem with unions is that the legal hoops they have to jump through serves to hamstring their actions and demoralise workers, if I turned up to a picket line with a leaflet with this headline the workers would not be very happy! Workers on strike, for all their misgivings of it, do identify with their union and such an approach would probably demoralise them (if I was taken seriously at all). However, only the most dysfunctional creep takes an interest in politics to make friends – the real reason I feel I could not take this approach is that I know nothing of the real situation on the ground. Not only do I not work there but the dispute has been overshadowed by both the national electricians and public sector pensions disputes, meaning that there has been next to no coverage in the left wing press. This means the key factor is unknown, is there a real will amongst the workers to fight and win?
It could be possible for the workers to defeat the bosses in January if they were able to set up mass pickets, preventing scabs from getting to work (watch this video of a mass picket of London fire fighters from November 2010, part of an official strike). Successful mass pickets would cost Servisair much money and important prestige and could see them back down.

Although I can only speculate from afar, evidence would suggest that there is a will to win. The workers themselves know that they can beat the bosses, management first tried to push through redundancies in the summer of 2009, they were met with a two week all out strike and backed down after fire service workers at the airport prepared to ballot for strike action in their defence. Furthermore, despite taking place in the run up to the Christmas period, ballot results in the highly unionised workplace were strong, with 85% voting to strike and 95% voting for action short of a strike. Attempts to ‘lock out’ strikers and confiscate security passes will have only served to heighten tensions.

I mentioned in a previous post that this is part of a (inter?)national move by all ground handling firms to casualise the industry. Baggage handlers are traditionally seen as militant workers and due to their strategic position have received relatively high wages for what is classed as unskilled work. The capitalist class is using the mass unemployment created by the economic crisis to force out full time workers and replace them with a larger, casualised, agency work force, working less hours and with no ‘right’ to strike. A defeat for the Liverpool baggage handlers would not only be a defeat for all those in the industry, but for the working class as a whole.

If the GMB regional organiser is to be believed when he reports “Our members have made a statement and they are more solid now than before. I attended eight picket lines and the strength was evident.” then why don’t they go for it? They have nothing to lose but their chains!