Monday, 6 February 2017

UNITE TO BLOCK THE BLUE BREXITEERS: defend workers' rights

"To restore Britain's competitiveness, we must begin by deregulating the labour market."

These words - from Liam Fox, one of the Tories' Three Brexiteers - should send a chill down the spine of any worker.
Many are sick of listening to endless news items about Brexit. But behind the fog of procedures and jargon, we need to be wide awake to the brutal slaughter of rights and conditions for working class people the Tories aim to impose as part of Britain's exit from the EU, including some progressive rulings by the EU's Court of Justice.

Millions of those who voted to Leave did so as a roar of outrage against decades of neglect and devastation in their communities by successive Tory and Labour governments, since the days of wholesale industrial vandalism by Maggie Thatcher.
Of course, the chief leaders of both the Leave and Remain campaigns also incited a dose of racism, blaming immigrants for the inhumane conditions imposed by the capitalist elite. However, it's an outrageous slur to imagine all Leave voters are racists, just as not all Remain voters are devoted fans of the capitalist European Union. 

But anyone who imagined the Brexit vote would usher in a revival of struggle to topple the Tories and their capitalist system of daylight robbery were living in a dark, dystopian version of La La Land. 
Instead, it's increased the levels of confusion, division, and real danger that the very Westminster elite rejected by so many millions through a Leave vote will get away with murdering even more of workers' rights and living standards. 

The organised trade union movement, alongside community campaigners and socialists, needs to counter this real and present danger with a determined crusade to unite working class people in struggle, to defend and vastly enhance their conditions of life.

The Singapore of Europe 
Several Tories have let slip their aim of making Britain the Singapore of Europe. 
A deregulated tax haven for big business and the obscenely rich, shredding even the flimsy framework of rights that remain for workers already subjected to a cruel, concerted class war for the past 40 years in capitalist Britain. 

They want to usher in even lower tax on corporations and the 1%; drive down wages even lower, despite escalating inflation, and wage stagnation since at least 2008; and dismantle regulations on Health & Safety, food standards, environmental protection, and a host of workplace rights.

Turning their backs on the EU marketplace, the Atlanticist wing of the Tories seek trade deals with some of the craziest capitalist governments they can snuggle up to, including the dictatorial Turkish regime (having just signed a £100million arms deal with them) and, especially, Trump's USA. 

Theresa May is set to hold hands with a Donald Trump whose slogan 'America First' should be a warning that any trade deals with him will be at terrible cost to the people of Britain, as The Donald pursues his nationalist, protectionist version of imperialist plunder. 
Already there's rampant speculation about UK food safety standards (under EU regulations) being dumped to import US pork that's pumped full of growth hormones and antibiotics, and of US corporations being invited to seize privatised chunks of the NHS under new trade deals.

EU No Workers' Nirvana
Contrary to the gushing love of the EU displayed by Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP government and indeed the Scottish Greens, the EU is no Nirvana for working class people. 

Rather than welcome in the huddled masses escaping war and starvation - frequently from regions bombed and previously colonized by big European powers that injected the poison of ethnic and religious sectarianism to make it easier to rule over them - Fortress Europe has allowed thousands of refugees to drown in the Mediterranean. A reported 4,000 tragic, miserable, deaths at sea for these desperate people in each of 2015 and 2016.

As well as being an anti-democratic bureaucracy, the EU has several Directives designed to block nationalisation, accelerate privatization of public services, and batter down wages by measures like the Posted Worker Directive - which allows corporations to hire workers in a low-pay, nil-rights country and then post them on those terms and conditions to another country with better working conditions.
As national governments lurched to the right in recent decades, what used to be called Social Europe has died. 

However, for a period of history, EU Directives and subsequent legislation acted as a badly dented shield for workers in Thatcherite and Blairite Britain. 
Some of the laws of EU origin that partially protected workers from the worst excesses of super-exploitative British capitalism were enforced as a result of mighty battles put up by the unions, and subsequent EU Court of Justice decisions to over-rule the governments and judiciary of Britain. 
For example, some of the laws governing break times at work; Agency Workers' rights; paid holiday entitlements; maternity rights; manual handling and other Health & Safety regulations; payments for some travel-to-work time, etc. 

Tories Dismantling Flimsy Protection of Workers 
Now, using the unexpected golden opportunity of Brexit, the Tories and capitalist overlords are determined to dismantle this flimsy framework of protective laws, to drive forward their mission of a low-waged capitalist free-for-all, to turbocharge their profit margins; to "restore Britain's competitiveness", in the weasel words of Tory Brexit leader Liam Fox.

That's why they're pushing through the Great Repeal Bill - to repatriate all these workplace regulations to Westminster, with the false promise EU-initiated rights will be retained... until the Tories find it timely to flush them down the toilet!
That's why they're about to implement their 2016 Trade Union Act, to throw up ever higher obstacles to workers and their unions resisting this class war on rights, conditions, jobs and wages. 

In that context, trade unionists and socialists should highlight and support the Workers' Rights (Maintenance of EU Regulations) Bill currently being pursued as a Private Member's Bill in Westminster.
But it will take an awful lot more than parliamentary measures to stop the class-driven civil war on the working class by the Tory Brexiteers and their big business puppet-masters.  

Mass Action to Stop the Slaughter 
The first time any employer tries to wield the truncheon provided by the Tory Trade Union Act, all unions need to rally to the side of the workforce and unions in the firing line.
For instance, if bosses try to halt a strike or picketing under this legislation, the STUC, TUC and each affiliated union leadership will need to get off the fence, turn oppositional speeches into mobilsation for mass protests, and defy the anti-union laws in the process.

That's the militant spirit and method required to render such laws powerless. Recent history proves this. In the 1970s, Ted Heath's Tories were forced to abandon their anti-union laws in the face of mass, unofficial, illegal strikes and mass demos of 250,000. 
A stark contrast to the feeble mumbling of the TUC in 2016, when they barely lifted a finger to take action to halt the Tory Trade Union Bill being passed. And a million miles removed from this week's appalling desertion of RMT strikers on Southern Rail by the leadership of the drivers' union, Aslef. 
Or the spineless role of the TUC, who acted as a treacherous referee, brokering the deal between Tory government-bankrolled Southern Rail bosses and Aslef, whilst slamming the door to these negotiations in the face of the RMT - after RMT members have sacrificed 45 days' pay in strikes to protect the travelling public's safety. 
Such readiness to grovel and break workers' solidarity will never in a million years win repeal of the battery of anti-union laws implemented by the Tories, retained by 13 years of Labour governments, made even more repressive by the Tories' 2016 Act.

Over recent decades, numerous workforces in Scotland and beyond have brushed aside the heavy hand of the law in pursuit of their cause, striking and winning without going through all the legal rigmaroles - for instance, postal workers, Glacier Metal workers, council staff, oil refinery construction workers.
Open trade union defiance of legal obstructions to basic rights is the only route to repeal of legislation consciously designed to enslave workers and aid unfettered profiteering for the few.

Beware Tory Divide and Rule 
Another core task we face - even more urgently after the Brexit vote - is to combat the vicious divide-and-rule tactics of the employers, government and most of their hired media. 
The issue of immigration has been whipped up to confuse, divide and weaken working class people's resistance to the real causes of their plummeting standard of living. 
The trade union movement needs to confront the lies and myths on immigration, or suffer the consequences of a divided working class, prey to plunder by the billionaires who feed us this toxic diet. 

Many capitalist politicians - the SNP included - sing hymns of praise to the EU Single Market, a mechanism primarily based on freedom of movement for capital, goods, services - and people, as sources of labour, as the EU capitalist club chases after profit maximization in the biggest possible market.
Whilst defending to the hilt the right of big corporations to shift their investments and operations round Europe and the rest of the globe - with a full 30% of all Direct Foreign Investment flowing through tax havens! - capitalists and their political parties systematically distract and divide us with tales of how the migration of people causes wage cuts, job losses and attacks on local public services. 

Blame the Rich - not Migrant Workers 
It's a monstrous lie; a myth that must be tackled head on by the trade union and socialist movement in order to show people the real causes of poverty pay and austerity cuts. Numerous in-depth studies - including recently by the London School of Economics - prove that immigration does NOT reduce wages for workers in this country. 

Wages fell after the 2008 financial collapse, at the same time as immigration slumped.
Contrary to the claims of many - right-wingers, but even Jeremy Corbyn in a recent concession to the lies of the right - that immigrant labour is driving down wages in the UK construction industry, wages there have risen every single month in 2016, at the same time as a mini boom in construction led to an upsurge of immigration.

In any case, immigrants don't impose low wages, or zero hours contracts, or the worst anti-union laws in the western world; governments and employers do.

Nor does immigration cut public services. For instance, a recent study by University College London shows EU migrant workers pay £20billion a year more in UK taxes than they take back in any form of benefits or services. 
And in Scotland, the aging population means we need net annual inward migration of 24,000 workers, just to stand still, let alone broaden the tax base to fund improved pensions, other benefits and public services.

Unite Against Slave Wages
But the unions also need to face up to other facts: bosses do try to hire slave-labour workers from abroad, or shift their investments overseas to cheap labour economies, and leave a desert behind them. That's where socialist strategy and tactics applied by the potentially powerful trade unions comes in. 

The rights of EU migrant workers in the UK is one of the key issues of concern post-Brexit. But a significant minority of workers are being duped into thinking immigration is a threat to their jobs and wages; incited to scapegoat migrants by the very same profit-hungry capitalist exploiters who are battering down wages in a race to the bottom.

United, collective action by workers, in particular through their unions, has always been the way to fight off such divide-and-rule trickery - not liberal pleas to the non-existent consciences of billionaires who don't give a damn what colour or creed of worker they can exploit, but do strive to divide and conquer. 

A key demand that unions need to actively pursue, to confront the Tory plans around Brexit, is protection and improvement of all existing rights for all workers, regardless of national origin, and application of the nationally negotiated wages and conditions to migrant workers, with full union rights.

The National Rate for the Job
Capitalist shipping magnates have a history of enslaving overseas crews under 'flags of convenience' to undermine the conditions won by workers in the countries they then operate in. The EU Posted Worker Directive aided this plan in other industries. 

In recent months, here in Scotland, we've witnessed an excellent example of a socialist trade union response to this outrageous practice. On the Seatruck freight ferries to Orkney and Shetland, overseas workers were being paid a derisory £4 an hour. The RMT union fought this in a high profile campaign, embarrassing the SNP government who were hiring this company under contract, and have just won agreement that all crew will get at least the UK national minimum wage. 

Hot on the heels of that breakthrough for workers' conditions, the RMT is now bombarding the Scottish government with the same demands for Lithuanian workers on ferries from Rosyth, paid only £1.64 an hour in 2014, and current wages the government declines to reveal! 

Fighting for 'the national rate and rights for the job', the unions should marry that to a vigorous campaign for a national minimum wage of £10 now, the policy shamefully left on the shelf by the TUC and most national unions since it was unanimously agreed as the policy of the TUC a long, lamentable 30 months ago! 

Unite Around Fighting Policies 
The unions and socialists have a critical role to play in preventing the divide-and-conquer strategy of the Blue Tory Brexiteers. Alongside the issues already mentioned, they should spearhead a dynamic struggle for a maximum wage no more than 10 times the £10 national minimum wage; for secure jobs with full trade union rights and restoration of collective bargaining; abolition of zero hours contracts and instead a guaranteed minimum 16-hour week for all who want it; repeal of all anti-union laws and a charter of workers' rights; reversal of cuts to services and privatization.

Such a package of policies would unite workers in struggle, regardless of origin, and indeed regardless of which way they voted in the EU Referendum. 

Alongside these fighting policies, the unions need to review their position on Scottish independence. Instead of offering workers the false choice of a capitalist EU or a low-wage capitalist tax haven for the rich in Brexit Britain, we need to popularize the case for an independent socialist Scotland in a European alliance of socialist democracies, where workers of all countries combine to make sure people come before profit.

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