Wed Sep 28, 2022
September 28, 2022

UK industrial disputes highest in five years

Build a national strike fight back.

Build a workers’ party from union and community struggles.

Workers are fighting back concerning pay, pensions, unsafe work practices and more after a decade of wage stagnation following the 2008 banking crash

By Martin Ralph – International Socialist League – Britain

Official inflation is 6% and rising. Energy bills have gone up 54% and fuel price rises set new records in March – never seen before. The cost of social housing has increased by 4.1% and council tax by 4%, and car tax is increasing by at least RPI. The price of some kinds of milk has increased by 15% and some oils by 20%. Beer is up 5%. Broadband is going up – BT increased their prices by 9.3%, Covid tests which were free now cost £1, the list is endless. This will be felt most by the working class and poorest sections of our society.

The TUC listed 300 disputes this year, which will be an underestimation. The fightback started last year against ‘Fire and Rehire’ and for decent pay increases, with many victories across the UK.

At the same time, Black communities have exploded in anger against the racism of the police and state institutions, such as in education. In March, there was a mass rally outside Stoke Newington Police station in protest of the strip search by police of a 15-year-old Black girl. That search was illegal, but a teacher in the school had called the police. The protest was led by Black women, supported strongly by many girls and men from the community. The police were not allowed to speak.

A member of the International Socialist League attended to show solidarity. We were told the teacher has been sacked, but the racist police remain employed. In London, there is a high incidence of stop and search. The ISL condemns both the police and the government. Johnson is pushing many laws through parliament that attack the rights of protest and pickets, Black, immigrant and refugees.

Why this is happening is because capitalism is in decay. And we can expect harsher and deeper attacks.

While we recognise the autonomy of union branches and community struggles, we have to build a combination of struggles to defeat the capitalist plans.

The strikes are rising

Around 70 workers in the Unite union are fighting the longest-running strike ever at Chep UK Trafford Park, Greater Manchester. It is now in their 19th week. They are paid £1,000 less than workers at the other six Chep sites in the UK. They voted 75% to strike against 1.5%. After 12 weeks, Chep workers were re-balloted 94% were in favour of continuation. Workers want 5%.

Workers at GE Aviation in Gloucester, making jet engines, are walking out each Friday in a bid to secure a better pay deal. 

Pay strikes are disrupting car manufacturing supply chains as Unite members at NSK Bearings and AKS Precision Ball factories in Durham strike every Wednesday and Saturday, rejecting a derisory 1.6% pay offer.

UCU, the union of university workers, is fighting for a 10% wage increase against pension reform that would mean drastic cuts in pensions, unmanageable workloads are faced by current university staff, pay inequality in universities and increasing use of insecure contracts. Over 50,000 staff across the country took part in strikes in March and April and the UCU has announced that more than a million students were impacted.

Workers at Great Ormond Street Hospital in the United Voices of the World union are striking for in-house conditions. Their pickets are very lively, but they have been banned from holding a picket line within 50 yards of their workplace.

More than 100 workers at Fawley Oil Refinery have rejected the “pathetic” offer of 2.5% and the lack of sick pay. The refinery is owned by Exxon, which made £6.75bn in 2021.

The GMB union recorded six victories over the past five months, including outsourced bin workers in Eastbourne and Hastings securing 19%-plus rises.

In recent months, Unite has secured 35 wins, including warehouse workers at B&Q’s national distribution centre in Worksop, Nottinghamshire, operated by the logistics firm Wincanton, who gained a near-11% pay boost after taking strike action.

Unite workers are currently involved in eight strikes, including a bitter dispute between refuse drivers and the Labour-controlled Coventry council. There are demands for Unite to cut funding for the Labour party.

GMB is organising ten strikes and holding two ballots. Workers at the Fox’s Glacier Mints factory in York walked out last week over a below-inflation pay offer, while staff at the pharmaceutical firm GSK and gas company Cadent are balloting for strikes.

UNISON members are balloting for a potentially massive strike in local authorities. Public sector workers have been offered a 1.75% pay rise, Unison is calling for a 10% rise.

There are many other disputes in the public and private sectors.

More than inflation

Wages, benefits and pensions are all threatened by inflation, and they must be linked directly to rising inflation. State pensions and some private pension schemes are, but that must be extended to all pensions, benefits and wages. There must be a sliding scale of wages so they rise with inflation. Inflation is assessed once a year- that link must become monthly.

The fights are also against job insecurity, equal wages, workloads, work hours, discrimination, and inhouse wages for all outsourced workers.

There is not a programme from the TUC or the main union leaders to build a great coordinated national strike movement uniting all the Black community’s demands. Workplace unions and union branches on strike need to link together and demand a national campaign of mobilisations, joint strikes and a programme of action and demands and an end to racism.

Not only do we need to show solidarity on the picket lines but also in the working-class neighbourhoods.

Build a new party from the strikes and community struggles

The Labour Party is doing nothing to build the fightback we need or support struggling workers. It is attacking the working class by carrying out the Tory austerity programme at the local level. Those councillors who can no longer stomach the cuts are being suspended, expelled and driven out by the Keir Starmer leadership.

Many illusions remain about the possibility of reformism, but the capitalist class are on a war footing against the working class and all those who fight for socialism, justice or workers’ rights. Labour is the party of reformism without reforms. This is not the answer for Britain’s working class, poor and oppressed people.

We need a workers’ party. Any attempt to build from the top like George Galloway’s ‘Workers Party of Britain’ will be flawed. It must be built from below, fighting for all workers, poor and oppressed people.

In the next article, we will be discussing what we mean about the need to build a Workers’ Party. As workers in the unions and communities are increasing their struggles now is a very good time to discuss the issue and to build a new party.

We say:

Shorten the working week without loss of pay

No layoffs or fire and rehire

In-house wages and conditions for all outsourced workers

Union recognition and election of shop stewards in every workplace

End racism in the workplace and neighbourhoods

Build the joint fight of workers, poor and Black neighbourhoods

End union payments to the Labour Party

Workers, youth, women, LGBTQ+ and the poor fight for a workers’ party controlled from below.

Build the international workers’ campaign against multinationals and imperialism.

Support the resistance in Ukraine.

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