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Editorial: A ferocious attack on trade unions is coming. It must be confronted

TORY shots across the bows of the rail and education unions in the Sunday Telegraph signal that a serious assault on the trade union movement is coming.

Ministers are aware that RMT members are likely to endorse strikes “from the north of Scotland down to the tip of Cornwall,” as the union’s general secretary Mick Lynch warns, and they are scared. 

Supply chain disruption and supermarket bosses’ talk of shelves lying empty pose a real risk to the government in what is already a volatile situation, with the cost of living soaring because of its refusal to rein in soaring prices for energy and food. 

But Conservatives are reluctant to abandon plans to gut the rail system by demanding a £3 billion reduction in spending and thousands of job losses. 

Besides, further attacks on the right to strike — already among the most restricted in the developed world — through imposing minimum service requirements on sectors like transport are not just a knee-jerk response to looming industrial strife. 

As Grant Shapps points out, they were in the Conservative manifesto. Together with the determination to axe 90,000 civil servants and Nadhim Zahawi’s threat to amend the Employment Relations Act to undermine unions’ role in representing teachers, this is the bridgehead of a co-ordinated anti-union offensive designed to permanently weaken the labour movement.

The propaganda war has begun, with the Daily Mail launching successive “red scare” attacks on leading figures in the RMT, weaponising the new cold war to try to discredit militant trade unionists and foment division. 

It is essential that unions maintain a united front against these transparently anti-union tactics. The miserable spectacle of much of the Labour left during the Corbyn years — when right-wing attacks on individuals were permitted or even echoed by supposed leftwingers, either for sectarian reasons or in a deluded bid to appease an enemy committed to the comprehensive defeat of the entire Corbyn project — is a lesson in how to guarantee defeat.

But we should also be ready to hit back at the barrage of disinformation with which the Tories precede their attack. 

Shapps’s lament that strikes will make the railways less attractive is a case in point. 

A “government source” briefs the Telegraph that unions should be careful not to disrupt rail travel as it will put passengers off — “rail is now a choice, not a necessity.” 

The phrase alone indicates how little the government cares for its Cop26 commitments on climate change, since a huge shift away from cars and planes to public transport by rail and bus is key to any serious bid to reduce emissions. 

But it is the Tories, not the unions, who are putting the viability of Britain’s railways at risk. 

It is the Tories who, despite the imperative to shift passengers and freight to the lowest-carbon form of mass transit, are insisting on massively reducing investment in one of the most expensive and slowest rail networks in Europe, cutting thousands of safety-critical jobs in the process. 

As we have seen in other sectors, Britain’s railways are being run into the ground by a parasitic ruling class content to extract as much money as possible in the short term without reference to long-term viability, since today’s footloose corporate “investors” have no interest in the quality or sustainability of our services.

This model of managed decline is all the Conservatives have to offer. It is the workers who run our public services who are standing up for a better future.

That is why the government is ready to go to such great lengths to silence them. It’s on all of us to fight back — standing in solidarity with the unions in the immediate firing line, and mobilising this summer to make the June 18 demonstration and New Deal tour the platforms for a renewed class politics and a political alternative.

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