MATT Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) and president of the TUC, has warned of industrial confrontation ‘unseen since the 1970s’ ahead of the Special Congress called by the TUC on Saturday December 9th to discuss its plans for fighting the Tory anti-strike laws.
The anti-strike laws contained within the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Act is due to take effect across three sectors – the ambulance service, the rail network and border security – from the middle of December.
Wrack said: ‘The Act is a blatant attempt to ban strikes and prevent workers defending their jobs, wages and conditions against the backdrop of Tory austerity and cost-of-living crisis. It’s about protecting bosses against workers.’
Wrack went on: ‘The reality of the legislation is now becoming clear. In key sectors, employers will be able to issue work notices compelling the majority of employees to work even after a democratic vote for strike action. That’s effectively trying to outlaw strikes.’
He hit out saying: ‘It’s the biggest attack on workers’ rights in postwar Britain, and reminiscent of the oppressive restrictions that exist in dictatorships and authoritarian regimes.’
Wrack added: ‘The FBU and other unions will not accept this attack on working people by this government led by multi-millionaires and which ruthlessly serves the interests of the billionaires and bosses.’
Addressing the issue of Saturday’s Special Congress, Wrack said it ‘could well mark the start of a campaign of non-compliance with this legislation, with workers striking in defiance of work notices’ and that a ‘campaign of non-cooperation backed by the TUC would represent the most significant act of defiance by the unions since the 1970s when anti-worker legislation was defeated through mass defiance of the law.’
Clearly, Wrack was referring to the ‘Pentonville 5’ dockers, who were jailed in July 1972 in Pentonville Prison for taking part in a national unofficial strike called by the TGWU (now the Unite union) in defence of their jobs and in defiance of the Tory anti-union laws of the time – the National Industrial Relations Act.
Thousands of workers walked out in solidarity with the jailed dockers, forcing the then leadership of the TUC to call a general strike.
The Tories, under Edward Heath, retreated and the dockers were released. But this didn’t signal the end of the Tory war on the unions.
In the 1980s, the Tories under Margaret Thatcher attempted to break the unions completely with draconian laws on balloting for industrial action designed to make official strikes impossible.
Thatcher went to war on the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) in a year-long strike that saw the full force of the capitalist state – the police, army and courts – used to try to break the strike and smash trade unions forever in Britain.
Thatcher was able to finance this war on the working class because British capitalism was reaping billions in revenue from North Sea oil – revenues that have long since disappeared and been replaced by massive national debt and bankruptcy.
Thatcher failed, and was forced out of office by the strength of the working class.
But there has been no let-up in the war to crush trade unions, in fact, it has become an even more pressing demand of the capitalist class as the British economy is diving over the abyss into recession and collapse.
This makes any compromise by the Tories or the right-wing Labour Party under Keir Starmer – who has praised Thatcher for her war on workers – impossible for a capitalist class that is intent on dumping its economic crisis squarely on the backs of the working class.
With the train drivers union ASLEF calling strike action in the next few weeks, the issue of taking on and defeating the Tory anti-strike laws cannot be put off simply by a campaign of ‘non-compliance’ by the TUC.
The Special Congress on Saturday must be forced to call an indefinite general strike to bring down the Tories and bring in a workers’ government that will expropriate the bosses and bankers under a planned socialist economy.
Join the Young Socialists mass lobby of the Special Congress to demand the TUC calls a general strike now – this is the way forward.