YESTERDAY thousands of trade union members attended a rally and mass lobby of parliament called by the TUC in an attempt to – in the words of a TUC statement on their website – ‘convince Conservative MPs to vote against the bill’.
The bill is the Tory Trade Union Bill which is due for its third reading in the House of Commons this week with the Tories intent on it becoming law by next spring. This anti-trade union legislation, with its plans to introduce ballot thresholds making legal strikes virtually impossible, and make pickets liable to criminal prosecution, is aimed at the destruction of every trade union right ever won.
The Tories are hell-bent on destroying the right to strike and thereby destroying trade unions as a necessary step in their war to drive the working class into the gutter, in order to rescue a bankrupt British capitalist system. For only the organised working class stands as a boulder in the path of the determination of the capitalist class to smash the welfare state, destroy the benefit system that millions of families are forced to rely on to survive, and ultimately drive the working class back to the conditions of 19th century Dickensian Britain – with its workhouses, starvation and destitution.
To do this they have to smash the unions which were fought for and formed in this very period by a working class that refused to accept this as their fate. The unions were built precisely in this period in a bitter struggle against governments and employers. They were built, and flourished, under conditions of illegality – the anti-Combination laws at the beginning of the 19th century made membership of a trade union illegal and workers liable to prison or deportation for joining one.
Workers were killed in the struggle for the basic right to combine together to confront powerful employers who exploited them and their children mercilessly in pursuit of profit. Trade unions were not ‘gifted’ to the working class by benevolent employers or sympathetic MPs – they were fought and died for by the working class. British capitalism in the 19th century was wealthy enough from its exploitation of the colonial world to concede rather than face a bloody insurrection.
Today this has turned into its opposite with British capitalism transformed into a weak bankrupt system, run by a Tory government that rules on a slender majority and can be brought down at any time. It only survives because of the complete refusal of the reformists in both the Labour Party and trade union leadership to lead any kind of serious fight.
Last week, the Labour reformists refused to back a Liberal amendment in the Lords that would have killed off the Tory plan to end tax credits for low paid families on the grounds that it wasn’t ‘constitutional’. They passed up the golden opportunity for bringing down the government, which would have surely happened as a result of such a major defeat, and in so doing saved Cameron and Osborne, and left them free to introduce savage cuts that will force hundreds of thousands of families into abject poverty – all out of respect for bourgeois constitutional niceties.
Similarly the trade union leaders are prepared to obey the law at all costs and restrict the struggle to defend trade unionism to begging Tory MPs to save them. The leadership of Unite, the biggest union in the country, has even offered to drop all opposition to the anti-union bill if only the Tories concede their ridiculous demand for internet balloting for industrial action.
These reformist leaders are playing the most treacherous role in propping up and supporting a Tory government that has declared war on the working class and its organisations. They must be removed from their positions, slung out and replaced by a new leadership that understands that, just as the trade unions were built in an all out struggle against the government and bosses of the day, so today they can only be defended by an all-out fight by calling a general strike to bring down the Tories and bring in a workers government and socialism.