Trade union leaders abandon members – build a revolutionary leadership in the unions


A STUDY published yesterday revealed that as many as six million workers in Britain live in fear of losing their jobs in the next six months as the country crashes into the greatest economic recession in 300 years.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said that the survey showed ‘Life has become harder still in the Covid-19 crisis – especially for those on the front line.’

This passive acceptance that the working class will have to pay for capitalism’s crisis, and that the role of the trade unions is to work with the bosses and Tories to ‘save’ bankrupt British capitalism, dominates the leadership of the unions.

Unite the union assistant general secretary Steve Turner, writing on the Labour List website, has called for the Tories to: ‘Get back round the table with unions, Chancellor – let’s agree a post-Covid plan.’

This echoed Unite general secretary Len McCluskey who pleaded: ‘We need a cooperative approach to get us out of this crisis, but not only that, we also then need a tripartite forum to recover the economy. If we don’t do that then we will be in more serious trouble, indeed.’

At the same time as offering Unite as a partner, McCluskey made it clear that his members are on their own over Johnson’s drive to force them back to work.

He said: ‘Every worker has a statutory right to work in a safe environment, and if any of our members are effectively unsure of that then we are saying that they should not be pressured into going back to work and should refuse to do so. And if they do so we will obviously defend them.’

Last week the teaching unions responded to the threat of forcing teachers back to work under Johnson’s school reopening plan by saying exactly the same thing – if you refuse to return to working in unsafe conditions then the union will defend you by making a case under health and safety legislation.

This same position has been advanced by the train workers union Aslef which on Monday ‘advised’ members of their right to refuse to work in circumstances where they are at risk of serious and imminent danger.

What these union leaders are saying is that it is up to every individual member to make a decision about returning to work, and those who refuse will then have to rely on the law to protect them.

It raises the question ‘what use are trade unions’ if they abrogate all responsibility to the individual to stand up to the government and employers by telling them to place their trust in the law?

This is a complete betrayal of the very principle on which workers fought when they built trade unions at the beginning of the 19th century when, driven into the factories and mills and facing the most brutal exploitation, they quickly realised the need to confront the bosses, not as individuals but with the strength of an organised union.

Workers were imprisoned, killed and transported for life in this class struggle to build trade unions, and today the trade union bureaucracy are tearing up the entire basis for trade unions in their quest to become junior partners with a government that has made no secret of its intention to smash trade unions and return to the days when workers were powerless to stand up against brutal super-exploitation.

These leaders more than deserve the analysis Lenin made of this ‘labour aristocracy’ as the ‘labour lieutenants of capitalism, real agents of the bourgeoisie in the working-class movement.’

With the historic crisis driving forward a revolutionary confrontation between the working class and a bankrupt capitalist class, the issue of the day is to remove these leaders who are prepared to lead the working class to defeat rather than fight the government and bosses.

A new revolutionary leadership of the WRP must be built in the trade unions that will instruct their members to refuse to return to work and place their lives on the line to keep the bosses in profit, and call a general strike to kick out the Tories and go forward to a workers’ government and socialism.