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FOUR leading trade-union activists put out a call to the whole movement — “in every city, town and village across Britain” — yesterday to co-ordinate a positive and inspiring campaign of education and action for the future of industry, jobs and rights at work.
The idea of a People’s March was raised, as the 40th anniversary of the original 1981 People’s March for Jobs approaches, and as the 2020 Tories maintain the neoliberal attack on the working class that was initiated under Thatcher.
Speaking at the 21st of the Making Sense of the Crisis online Covid-19 rallies, hosted by the People’s Assembly and live-streamed by a wide range of working-class-movement Facebook pages, Steve Turner, Unite’s assistant general secretary said: “We are at a crossroads.”
Pointing to the successes we have made when the unions have acted together during the pandemic to influence government — not least to win furlough’s job and pay protections — he pointed out: “Of course the Tories revert to type.
“The failures of the market system are systemic. They were there pre-Covid and will be post-Covid. But, instead of any proper recovery programme, as other countries have adopted, they focus on the same existing right-wing neoliberal thinking to make our class pay the price, while £billions are being given to business without any criteria of job and skills protection, or investment in the long-term future of industries.
“So it’s taxpayers’ money being handed over to big corporations to hand on to corporate shareholders or line the pockets of boards of directors. That’s where an equity stake in the business in return for state money is important. That’s where public ownership of key sectors of the economy is fundamental to transitioning the economy in a just way, with working people and our communities at the centre of that new economy.”
Moz Greenshields of the Trades Union Councils joint consultative committee (TUC JCC), in opening the meeting, said that the Covid-19 crisis had “illustrated many fault lines in our class-divided society, and a very major one is in employment: with, at one end, escalating big-business personal and corporate wealth and, at the other, low pay, job insecurity, shocking conditions of work, and huge job loss, with all that means to working-class families and communities.”
She pointed to the 650,000 UK jobs already gone in the pandemic period, with predictions of six million more under threat right across the economy, “from highly skilled manufacturing jobs, to those in hospitality, tourism and entertainment, to agriculture and food, to the whole range of our public services.”
Steve Turner estimated that 4.5m workers would be unemployed by Christmas — with all the associated personal, health and community problems — and noted the danger of the ultra-right populist and fascist groups lurking in the wings, hoping to “pounce” with their distorted versions of the cause of recession.
Carolyn Jones, from the widely respected Institute of Employment Rights and the Campaign for Trade Union Freedom, suggested that the process of fighting for workers’ trade-union rights and for a trade-union movement free of state restrictions and control would provide the basis for an economy and jobs fit for the 21st century. But, she said, “these will not be delivered to us by anyone: we will only get what we fight for,” hammering home comments from Mr Turner that “nothing just ‘happens’: you have to fight for it. It’s a struggle, not a stroll in the park. It’s a constant battle between our class and those whose aim it is to rip everything away from us and line their own pockets.”
Peter Middleman from the North West Region TUC agreed, citing his experience of the teachers’ unions’ struggle over the opening of schools. “You can’t contract these things out to other agencies — politicians, EU, etc — we need to organise for them ourselves.”
He went on to present Aims for a Post-Pandemic Workers’ Consensus from the North West TUC, saying “we need to get ahead of the impact of Covid, building our own organisations and voice, not reliant on others.” He said that shaping the recovery in the interests of our class won’t be simply achieved by good negotiators or through election results, but by building a strong, confident, consistent voice — and organisation — in our communities.
Main topics from the NW TUC report’s aims are: firstly, a strong voice in the workplace for collective bargaining and reduction in inequality. Secondly, economic planning to provide employment security and a new settlement for workers. Next, a system of welfare and public service recognising the role of such key workers. And finally, the need to ensure safe, satisfying, dignified and properly rewarded work to replace the exploitation and lack of respect that alienates workers.
All of these, said Mr Middleman, are dependent on building a renewed sense of working-class unity. One of the means of achieving that would be through a new commitment from the unions to economic and political education — not just for workplace stewards but for the community in general — for the unorganised superexploited precarious worker, for the foodbank user, for universal benefit claimants, for tenants and renters. This will help with understanding the economic, ideological and political decisions that put them in the situation they face. It will also help to generate the “entirely legitimate anger, and the hope, that will mobilise our communities.”
Such a programme would need the unions to build partnerships with trades union councils, unemployed workers’ centres and People’s Assemblies — bringing in many of the new and younger trade-union members to work in the community.
In the following discussion, all agreed that organising political education and activities that involve whole communities are challenges that we all face. It was in this context that the proposal was made for a People’s March for Jobs, mobilising those local communities and linking them together across Britain.
As Steve Turner commented: “We know, when looking at political changes: they don’t come from just writing letters — but getting on the streets.”
Pete Middleman reminded everyone of the parallels with the 1980s, when organised unemployed workers had real impact through the network of unemployed workers’ centres across Britain, and suggested that organising for a People’s March could act as a catalyst in rebuilding some of those important resources and priorities — and confidence in our communities to act together.
Such “proactive, engaging, collective, extra-parliamentary direct action,” agreed Ms Jones, could create the context for political and economic education and the conditions for lasting regeneration of working-class organisation.
The national People’s Assembly online sessions are taking a break until September, but many local People’s Assemblies are just getting up and running, so visit the website to see what’s happening in your area. https://www.facebook.com/ThePeoplesAssembly/videos/617641205548678/
Andy Bain is the Morning Star representative on the People’s Assembly national committee.
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