LAST November, the Tories were confidently predicting that when their anti-strike ‘Minimum Service Levels’ law was finally passed before Christmas, around 40% of rail services would run during strikes.
This law specified minimum service levels for rail and ambulance workers in England, along with border security staff in England, Wales and Scotland.
Minimum service levels would be enforced by the law which makes it a crime punishable by instant dismissal for any worker to refuse the instructions of their employer to cross picket lines and attend for work during a strike.
Trade unions refusing to implement management demands would be liable for fines of up to one million pounds for losses claimed by the employers.
The first test of the anti-strike laws was this week’s walk-out by members of the train drivers’ union ASLEF across 16 train companies in pursuit of a long-running campaign for wage increases.
Out of the 16, only the state-owned LNER train operator told ASLEF that it intended to use the anti-strike laws during the initial 24-hour strike called for Friday 2nd February.
ASLEF immediately announced it would strike for a further five days in February, forcing LNER to do an abrupt climb down.
This retreat by LNER has been greeted with fury by Tory prime minister Rishi Sunak who was relying on the state-owned train company to lead the charge to implement the anti-strike laws.
Sunak did the media rounds yesterday morning to express his anger about this retreat from implementing the laws, telling the Daily Mail: ‘They’re available for train operators to use – a key tool that train operators themselves have asked for – to reduce the impact of disruption on passengers. They should now use them.’
The Daily Telegraph reported: ‘Sunak urges rail firms to use minimum service level powers during strikes’ and enforce the anti-strike laws to ensure at least 40% of normal services,’ adding: ‘Sunak demands rail companies use anti-strike laws and accuses unions of running a “campaign of contempt”.’
This is nothing compared to the contempt showered on the Tories by the Telegraph, which yesterday ran an editorial headed: ‘The Government’s striking weakness’ and asked the question: ‘What is the point of minimum service legislation, if even a state-run rail operator is unwilling to use it?’
The Telegraph, acknowledged as the reliable reflector of the thinking dominating the ruling class and upper levels of the Tory Party, may well have asked ‘what is the point of this government?’ if it is too weak to carry out a war to smash the working class and its trade unions.
Sunak may be fuming that LNER caved in to the power of ASLEF members but this does not mean that the Tories and the bosses have given up on their determination to make striking illegal.
This week, there has been a fresh attempt by the Tories to revive their plans to bring in new legislation to allow employers to break strikes by hiring agency workers to fill in for strikers – a practice that has been illegal for decades. The attempt to bring in these laws was quashed by the High Court last year in a ruling that declared them ‘unlawful’ and ‘irrational’.
The anti-union and strike law has undoubtedly suffered a set back, but the trade unions must not fall into the trap of complacency over any temporary victory.
The economic crisis of British capitalism demands that the ruling class wage a class war to the finish to impose savage austerity and poverty on the backs of workers and their families.
For this reason the ruling class are increasingly planning for a new right-wing party capable of defeating the powerful working class to replace the weak crumbling Tory government.
The working class has shown its power and will not be driven back to the ‘hungry thirties’ to save bankrupt capitalism and the profits of the bosses.
The burning issue is to demand the TUC mobilise this strength by calling a general strike to bring down the Tories and bring in a workers’ government and socialism.
We urge workers and youth to join the WRP and Young Socialists to build up the leadership to organise the British Socialist Revolution.
This is the way forward.