Thursday, 12 October 2017

HIGH COURT OF INJUSTICE: stand by your posties!

In a class-ridden fashion that was all too predictable, a High Court judge has granted Royal Mail bosses an interim injunction against the Communication Workers' Union strike action going ahead next week (19-21 October).

The mass democracy of a 9:1 majority for strike action amongst 110,000 CWU members has been trampled underfoot by an unelected judge on behalf of the unelected Royal Mail Group bosses.

After the resounding Yes vote was won - despite all the threats and obstruction thrown up by Royal Mail bosses - they tried to get a legal crushing of the subsequent action by absurdly claiming the union had not taken sufficient steps to inform its members of the planned strikes. Only those posties on a trip to Mars, with all communication channels to ground control cut off, could have been unaware of the planned action! 
These scared, desperate, but brutal bosses had to drop that crude nonsense, but then pursued the line of seeking an interim injunction on grounds of financial damage to the company. 

Court of Class Injustice

In stark confirmation of the role of the judicial arm of the state in the struggle between workers and big business employers, the judge had to decide who would suffer the greater financial damage, depending on whether he allowed the democratically decided industrial action to go ahead, or not. So his decision was to financially protect the Royal Mail bosses, at the expense of stalling the fightback by posties. At the expense of democracy. He instructed the CWU to suspend all industrial action "until external mediation had been concluded". 

The Issues Remain

But in reality this judicial setback only defers rather than defeats the struggle by Royal Mail workers. 
The issues remain. 
Nothing has been solved in the struggle to defend workers' pensions from a cut of up to 30%. 
Nothing has been conceded on the CWU's demands for a decent wage on retirement; or for a 35-hour working week without loss of pay, inclusive of breaks, to protect jobs, reduce drudgery and harness the advantages of new technology; or for defence of the right of union reps to properly function; or to withdraw plans for a two-tier workforce, with lower pay for new starters. 

The 9:1 Ballot Remains 

The ballot result remains.
As CWU General secretary Dave Ward declared outside the High Court of (In-)Justice:

"We walked into the Court with a 90% Yes vote, and we walked out still with a 90% Yes vote. This ballot is still live and kicking." 

The ruling merely delays the likelihood of strike action by 7 weeks, because the judge issued that as a deadline for the warring sides to reach an agreement through 'external mediation'.
This is an entirely bogus proposal; a fig leaf for a naked, class-driven offensive against workers and their ability to defend both their own conditions and the public services they provide. 
Negotiations on these issues have been dragged out by Royal Mail for 18 months already - including external mediation! 
Workers and their union reached the end of their collective tether, and only then balloted for strike action to force the out-of-touch bosses to sit up and listen. 

Strike Before Christmas 

As the CWU's Dave Ward declared, unless mediation leads to an acceptable offer in defence of workers and the great public service they provide, Royal Mail bosses are still staring down the barrel of a gun. The company either protects workers' pensions, pay, jobs, union rights and the service to the public, or they'll still encounter strikes before the peak Christmas period. 

And that's a key detail: the union is absolutely right to declare they will not allow the Royal Mail Board to string out mediation beyond the timescale specified by the High Court. 
The danger is that the employers want to stretch out 'external mediation' until the enhanced impact of a strike in December is dead and gone. They must not succeed. Either they concede to the demands of a workforce they are blatantly out of touch with during the mediation,  or they should be forced into doing so by decisive strike action before Christmas. 

Stand by Your Posties 

The war to defend Royal Mail services and it's workers is far from over. The use of the High Courts to tramp workers' democratic decisions into the dirt will only harden the resolve of these 110,000 men and women - and the determination of fellow trade unionists and socialists to build solidarity with them. 

Wednesday, 11 October 2017


I know this isn't in keeping with the blogs I normally write, but in case some of you are either members of an USDAW union branch in Scotland - or you know somebody who is - I'm posting this letter appealing for branch nominations for the Usdaw National Executive Council elections.

Several Usdaw activists asked me to stand for one of the two positions on the NEC elected by Usdaw's 45,000 members. I eventually made my mind up and agreed to be a candidate!

I want to bring decades of experience as a trade union activist, campaigner and socialist to the deliberations of my union's NEC. Hopefully, the letter briefly explains some of my priority policies and aims.

Retail and related jobs are polluted by poverty pay and job insecurity.

I want to help push our union into a far more urgent approach to actively implementing policies agreed at its own conferences (ADMs - Annual Delegate Meetings), on issues like an IMMEDIATE £10 minimum wage... before inflation makes this a redundant demand!

I want to pursue policies like a guaranteed minimum 16-hour contract for all workers who want it, instead of the abomination of zero hours contracts.

And I want to combine with others to make our union more transparently democratic, with far greater membership control.

I have energetically built up the union membership during my 10 years in Usdaw, and spoken out for what I believe in at conferences of the union - both Scottish and UK-wide.

Please consider what you can do to help me get nominations at Usdaw branches.
Nominations started last week, and the deadline for receipt of all branch nominations at the Usdaw HQ is 13th November. Get in touch if your Usdaw branch needs more of my details for the nomination procedures.

Apologies to those NOT in Usdaw who read this - but have a think if you know anyone in the union who you can share this with, and encourage them to support a socialist candidate for the Usdaw NEC.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017


Something major must be happening when you get a senior Tory party conference delegate declaring on TV: "We need to rename our party to the Conservative Workers Party"! 

The proposed launch of the CWP isn't just a sick joke, when compared with the Tories' obnoxious track record on slashing wages, slaughtering public services and aiming to wipe out workers' rights - all in the name of turbocharged profit for the few. 

It's also a half-acknowledged reflection of the latent power of working class people to change the society we live in, and the sheer dread of the Tories and their millionaire cohort at the mounting anger and opposition of workers - including the growing outbreaks of protests and strike actions.

Age of Austerity 

We live in the infamous Age of Austerity. Since the bankers brought the economy to the brink of collapse in 2008, working class people have paid the terrible price of capitalist profiteering - twice! 

First, through the £1.3trillion bailout of the bankers from public funds in 2008. Since then, through the systematic theft of wages under the seven-year public sector pay cap; robbery of wages and conditions in the private sector; and savagery against public services and the benefits of society's most vulnerable people, including the sick and disabled. 

The Tories are panic-stricken at the potential of the lid blowing off the pressure cooker of plummeting pay and rising inflation, with outbreaks of strike action over recent months - and unanimous backing for a Motion at the recent TUC conference for coordinated demonstrations and strike action against the pay cap. They dread a winter of discontent. 

Savage Pay Cuts

TUC research has shown five million public sector workers have lost between £2,000 to £5,000 in wages from the zero and 1% pay cap of the last seven years.
Recent official inflation figures of 3.9% have added to workers' fury. 

Trade unions in the civil service and local authorities have lodged pay claims of 5% to stop the ongoing annual pay cuts; and at least the current RPI inflation rate of 3.9% in the case of NHS unions. 

Tens of thousands joined the demo outside Tory conference. The civil service PCS union held pay-day protests in over 100 places on 29 September, and is starting a consultative ballot of 160,000 members on strike action on pay from 9 October. 

At the TUC, PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka rightly called on other public sector unions to do likewise, to seriously prepare the grounds for actual strike ballots, building up the readiness of members, in order to overcome the high-hurdles obstructions to action imposed by the 2016 Tory (anti-) Trade Union Act, with its 50% threshold. 

PCS general secretary, Mark Serwotka

Divided Tories Seek to Divide Workers 

As we warned in articles back in early July, the Tories are divided on how to respond, but determined to divide and defeat workers as they beat a retreat on their brutal pay cap.
They know a total, across-the-board climb-down would embolden millions of workers - including in the private sector - who are struggling to survive the planned poverty that is austerity.
But they also know the pay cap is unsustainable, a recipe for explosions that could even threaten the downfall of the enfeebled Theresa May regime. 

The Tories resort to divide-and-conquer trickery, with talk of responding to the Pay Review Bodies' Reports - hiding the fact these bodies only cover less than 45% of public sector workers - and offer piddling pay rises to prison officers and police that don't even match half the 3.9% inflation rate.

The warnings we've made of their divisive tactics have materialized: after seven long years of draconian pay cuts, they might offer token rises a bit above the 1% cap to prison officers, police, firefighters and nurses - but exclude civil service and council staff, in the hope they don't enjoy the same levels of public sympathy.

On top of which, any pay concessions are poised to be paid for by job cuts and slashed services. Already, the GMB union has calculated the loss of nearly a million public sector jobs since 2010 - driving down that sector to 17% of all workers, the lowest proportion since the year before the NHS was founded! 

Scrap the Cap - by how much? 

Workers will all welcome the promises of both Jeremy Corbyn and the current SNP government to end the Tory pay cap. But what remains unanswered from both is what level of pay rise is on offer when they 'scrap the cap'. Neither has openly backed the modest demands of 5% demanded by civil service and council unions. 

In the most immediate situation, will any pay rise from the Scottish government be funded by taxing the rich, and mounting a serious struggle to win back some of the £billions robbed from Scottish budgets by successive Tory and Labour Westminster governments?
Or just from a reshuffling of the block grant budget between pay, jobs and public services? Robbing Peter to pay Paul.

In the private sector - such as retail - any recent concessions on paltry pay have been accompanied by savage attacks on other terms and conditions, such as premium payments for working Sundays, bank holidays, nightshifts or other antisocial hours. Robbing Peter to pay Peter! 

Don't Trade Jobs or Services for Pay 

The real danger is that unless the unions take united, decisive action to prevent it, the Scottish and UK governments - and alongside this, local councils - will try to trade off pay rises for cuts to jobs, conditions and public services.

The anti-austerity message from Jeremy Corbyn has emboldened workers in England that something radically different is available. The brutal realities of pay cuts and other assaults on conditions has led to outbursts of small strikes - such as BA cabin crews, and the courageous group of McDonald's workers - which, in my own experience, has encouraged some other workers to talk about the role of the unions. 

Posties on the picket line

Stand by Your Post! 

Royal Mail workers in the CWU - 110,000 of them - have voted for strikes against the loss of up to 30% of their pensions; for a decent wage on retirement; against the introduction of lower pay for new starters - a two-tier workforce; against assaults on union reps; and for reduction of the working week to 35 hours, without loss of pay, inclusive of paid breaks. 

In the first national ballot to be held since the 2016 Tory Trade Union Act threw up barriers against winning a vote for action that would make Aintree's Becher's Brook look like a molehill, CWU members smashed through the Tory blockades to democracy with an astonishing majority. In a 73.3% turnout, a whopping 89.1% voted for strike action.

Their anger has been fuelled by the handout of £770million in dividends to shareholders, and the payment of up to £200,000 a year to top Royal Mail bosses' separate pension pots, which remain untouched. 

The CWU's call for a shorter working week without loss of earnings, to tackle workload, protect full-time jobs, and prepare for the impact of 'the fourth technological revolution', exactly matches workers' needs in general - and matches the polices of the SSP. 

RMT members across several profiteering rail companies are striking against the safety- threatening Driver Only Operated trains being imposed as government policy. They are showing admirable courage in the face of government-sponsored brutality by the rail companies and a vicious media onslaught. They deserve the solidarity of other unions. 

For Coordinated Action  

The time is increasingly ripening for coordinated action on pay and related conditions.
Not at the expense of jobs, or public services, but at the expense of the obscenely rich and profiteering corporations. 

The TUC has a horrible history of doing little or literally nothing to implement their own agreed policies and actions. Rather than simply sit and wait for them to implement the agreed demos and coordinated strikes to scrap the pay cap, socialists and other union activists need to bombard their own union leaderships with demands for action. 

The welcome pledge by PCS leader Mark Serwotka to initiate meetings of all public sector unions could help mobilize millions of public sector workers. 

Those of us in private sector workplaces should build solidarity with workers in Royal Mail, the railways, and the public sector, making demands on our own employers for pay rises to compensate for years of eye-watering pay cuts, but without loss of jobs or other terms and conditions. 

Demand No Cuts Budgets - and £10 Now! 

The season of budgets from the Westminster, Holyrood and local authority governments is upon us, and the unions should unite with community groups and socialists in demanding real and concrete actions to reverse the tsunami of austerity. 

The SSP is calling on unions to mount a battle to demand the funding for a (voluntary, non-statutory) £10 Living Wage for all 500,000 Scottish workers employed directly or indirectly by the Scottish government and the 32 Scottish local authorities. 

This would help combat poverty pay. It would set a benchmark for the other 80% of workers employed in the private sector.
It would be a serious step by the unions to implement the "£10 minimum wage for all workers" that they agreed - unanimously - a long, excruciating 3 years ago, at the September 2014 TUC conference! 

But Scottish and council politicians should be bombarded to set No Cuts budgets, demanding the funding off Westminster and Holyrood to at least protect existing jobs and services, with the £10 minimum included, and equal pay for women - not rob Peter to pay Pauline (or Peter!). 

The Acid Test for Labour and SNP 

SNP Councillors, MSPs and MPs won mandates by claiming to be anti-austerity. 

In England, Jeremy Corbyn's Labour won massively increased support with its anti-austerity message. Now in Scottish Labour, Richard Leonard is seeking votes as leader by association with Corbyn.

All these political forces need to be put to the test with demands to turn grand words into meaningful action. 

Instead of passing on nearly £3billion of Westminster cuts since 2010, the SNP government needs to face a movement - led by unions and community organisations - demanding they defy all Tory cuts and win back some of our stolen £billions through mass action. 

The teachers' union, EIS, is currently in tripartite talks where the Scottish government and COSLA (councils) have offered 1.5% pay rise for new teachers and those at the top end of the pay scale, and only 1% for other teachers. That hardly matches Nicola Sturgeon's bold public promises of ending the pay cap! 

Labour and SNP councillors need to be pounded with pressure to reverse their sorry record of cutting jobs, pay and public services. 

Birmingham bin collectors strike against Labour council axe-wielders

Labour and the Brummie Bin Strike 

The acid test for Corbyn's Labour has been their baleful role in the battle between Birmingham bin workers and the city's Labour council.
There, Labour has acted to 'delete' 113 safety critical bin collectors' jobs, with a £5,000 pay cut; employed agency workers to undermine the resultant strike action; and then reneged on a deal brokered through ACAS - issuing real, live redundancy notices to their own workers. This was only halted by the resumed strike action of the bin workers, which helped Unite the union win a court ruling that outlawed Labour's redundancy notices. 

Here's the crunch; the warning to anyone falling for the idea that workers should "wait for a Corbyn government" rather than fight back now, with strikes where necessary.
Not once has Jeremy condemned the role of Birmingham's Labour councillors. Not once has the massively popular, anti-austerity, left-wing Corbyn leadership issued a call to its own Labour councillors, anywhere, to defy Tory funding cuts, to set No Cuts budgets. Instead, as well as the savagery suffered at the hands of years of Labour councils in Scotland, their counterparts in Durham and Derby have provoked strikes by teaching assistants, against Labour council pay cuts of 23%; with no condemnation, let alone expulsion, of these Labour axe-wielders by the national, Corbyn Labour leadership.

Waiting for Godot? 

Workers have been undoubtedly enthused and encouraged to fight back by the inspiring speeches of Jeremy Corbyn, with their core message of standing up 'for the many, not the few'. And the Corbyn surge in England has seriously weakened the May Tory regime.

But it would be fatal to rely on 'waiting for Godot'. How are workers and their families meant to live whilst waiting for the election of Corbyn as Prime Minister? How can workers topple the enfeebled Tory regime without taking action on pay, pensions, jobs and public services, here and now? And can we believe there will be an outright end to austerity under Labour - even when led by Jeremy Corbyn - given their failure when the chips are down in several local authorities, and the absence of any sanctions against right-wing Labour councillors from the left-wing UK leadership? 

Workers' Potential Power

The Tories, in their own perverse fashion, recognize the potential power of the organised trade union movement, and its potential allies amongst students and other young people. 

In battling against austerity, pay cuts, attacks on pensions, jobs and services, we need to rely on that potential and help mobilize it - not wait for some future salvation by politicians, no matter how decent or well-intentioned. 

Those who rule the roost, making profit out of working people, are past masters at divide-and-rule tactics. Trade unionists, community campaigners, young people and socialists need to help build the campaign for coordinated demos and strike action to reverse the tide of cuts to our share of the wealth which we created in the first place. 

SSP is Battle-Ready 

The SSP is ready and willing to play its part (in our unions, communities and colleges) in the struggle for a £10 minimum wage here and now, with no loss of other conditions; to scrap the cap, with pay rises to compensate for seven years of wage cuts; No Cuts council and Scottish budgets, with a struggle to win back some of the £billions stolen off Scotland by Tory and Labour governments; for an immediate 35-hour maximum working week without loss of earnings, to share out the workload and take advantage of new technology; and ultimately for a socialist society run by the many millions, not the few millionaires.