IN a full-page article in Thursday’s Guardian newspaper, the leader of the country’s biggest union, Len McCluskey, announced that the Unite executive had unanimously agreed to recommend to the membership a change in the union’s rule book.
The executive will be calling for the deletion of the words ‘so far as may be lawful’ from the rules which govern the union’s action.
McCluskey wrote: ‘The proposed change in the constitution of the biggest union on these isles marks the sorry place we have reached in our national democracy.’
McCluskey was quick to reassure Guardian readers that dropping the union’s previous commitment to working at all times within the law was ‘not because we are anarchists, not because we are suddenly planning a bank robbery, but because we have to ask ourselves the question: can we any longer make that commitment to stick, under any and all circumstances, within the law as it stands?’
Having boldly stated the Unite executives’ preparedness to break the law, McCluskey then went on hastily to start backtracking, saying: ‘Let me emphasise Unite’s continuing determination to operate ever more effectively within the law, even when that law is an ass and ill-serves our people.’
No worker should be surprised by this exercise in double-speak – pledging to break the law while assuring the government and employers that they will do everything possible to work within it.
McCluskey has a long history of ‘left’ sounding bluster followed by ignominious retreat. Most telling was his complete abandonment of the TUC resolution passed overwhelmingly at the 2012 conference calling for the ‘examination of the practicality of a general strike’.
Offering full support to the motion, the Unite delegate, Steve Turner said: ‘We have a government waging open class war against our members,’ adding: ‘A general strike will be a political strike led by the TUC and not a trade dispute needing a ballot.’
The following month, McCluskey began his examination of the practicalities of calling a general strike when he bellowed to a 20,000-strong anti-austerity rally in Hyde Park ‘Are you prepared for a general strike?’ and got an overwhelming affirmative to his question.
From that day on, McCluskey has been running from the issue of organising a general strike, going along with the TUC line that their own policy should not even be mentioned again.
All the changes to the union constitution cannot disguise the fact that McCluskey, along with every other union leader, is not prepared to lead the fight that faces the working class in the immediate period.
When Tory Chancellor George Osborne spoke on the budget this week about British capitalism ‘walking tall’, it is clear that the only way bankrupt British capitalism can stumble (let alone walk) anywhere is over the bones of the working class and amongst the rubble of the NHS and Welfare State.
When Osborne spoke of putting ‘economic security first’ he was announcing permanent and increasing austerity – a regime that will have to be imposed on the working class whatever government is in place, be it Labour, Tory or a National Coalition.
Any government charged with the responsibility of rescuing the capitalist system and paying off the huge national debt run up bailing out the bankers will be forced to take on and battle a powerful working class and its organisations.
What is in store is not just new legal restrictions on strike ballots but making trade unions themselves illegal.
This cannot be achieved peacefully, but only through open class war. Simply changing the constitution does nothing to prepare Unite members and the working class as a whole for this fight.
This is a fight that inevitably involves the biggest act of illegality under capitalism – organising and leading a political general strike to bring down the government and go forward to a workers government and socialism.
The socialist revolution will never be carried out legally. It demands a new revolutionary leadership be built to replace this old reformist leadership which has learnt how to use left talk to try to hide its betrayals of the working class.
Build the revolutionary leadership – Forward to the British socialist revolution!