Friday 1 February 2008

Lessons for NZ left in UK wildcat strike wave

by Grant Morgan RAM chair 31 January 2009 Below is a link to a Guardian story on the fast-moving wildcat illegal strike wave among many thousands of construction workers on different sites across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. They are taking independent action to protect jobs in an industry where the unemployment rate is already high and climbing fast as the Combo Crisis buffets the British economy. The flashpoint came when an oil refinery corporation in Lincolnshire awarded a construction contract to an Italian firm using Italian and Portuguese labour at low pay rates while thousands of local construction workers rotted on the dole queue. Notable features of this strike wave include: 1. It has been started and spread by rank-&-file workers, not by their union officials, after many years of dispirited unionism. 2. The speed of its spread across different sites is truly amazing, especially since the driving force is the rank-&-file, not their union officials. 3. Virtually all these wildcat strikes strikes are illegal under laws passed by Britain's original neocon prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, and shamefully kept on the statute books during 12 years of Labour government. 4. Because many strikers are carrying banners demanding "British jobs for British workers", a debate about whether or not the strike wave is "racist" has erupted in the media and on the left. 5. A mass meeting elected a socialist to the six-person rank-&-file strike committee, an indicator that this blue-collar strike wave is being driven by the class issue of uniting against corporates which refuse to hire local workers at union-set national pay rates in order to lift profitability and depress all wages. As the Combo Crisis really starts to hit New Zealand, which looks likely to be sooner rather than later, we will probably see rank-&-file eruptions here too. After all, many of the present conditions in New Zealand have some similarity with those operating in Britain a year ago, such as: - Years on end of dispirited unionism and historically low levels of strikes. - Harsh anti-strike laws kept on the statute books by both Labour and conservative governments. - A mostly timid and often conservative official leadership of the union movement which generally lined up behind a market-supporting Labour Party. - A massive erosion of traditional class and socialist traditions inside the union movement and among the grassroots in general. - Capitalism's generally successful promotion of nationalism, lifestyle, competition and other divisive alternatives to a united working class. The speed, the seriousness and the contest of ideas in the rank-&-file strike wave now sweeping Britain's construction sites should be a wake up call to RAM and others on the left in New Zealand. The coming economic meltdown in New Zealand will be an historic test for the left. What we do right now is important in preparing workers and others at the grassroots for the mass mobilisations that will be needed to protect people from the devastating crisis of the market. And when the brown stuff hits the fan in this country, as it almost certainly will, the independent left must be ready to immediately work together to win the contest of ideas and to spread the fightbacks as fast and as far as possible. See Guardian article (31 Jan) Mediators called in over construction strikes

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