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"!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Workers' Potential PowerThe 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.
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.