Striking Successes to Emulate

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Workers' confidence has continued to show signs of recovery in the last couple of months. The huge stop the war movement has politicised a whole new generation of union activists as well as revitalising an older layer.

In addition long hours, low pay and bullying bosses mean the anger and bitterness among rank and file workers is immense.

For check-in staff at British Airways (BA) it exploded over the issue of identity swipe cards, which workers rightly suspected would be used to increase 'flexibility'. The significance of this strike was its spontaneous nature and the level of anger. BA managers were completely panicked as low paid, mainly women workers who had been bullied and harassed for years by managers told them to 'fuck off' when they tried to intimidate them back to work. The resulting victory showed the power of strike action. The task now is to translate that into rank and file organisation.

There has been a minor rebellion of low paid workers in the past two to three months, the best example being the nursery nurses in east London who both defended an attack on their conditions and won pay rises of up to £4,500 per year after an all-out strike. Most of these battles have been in the NHS, where porters, domestics and catering staff have fought and won in a number of places. The problem has been the unwillingness of Unison to link these struggles nationally.

This is also true of the mini strike wave on the buses. Over the last two months there have been strikes in Sheffield, Portsmouth, Dorset and Devon and the threat of strikes in York. Most of these have ended in victory, with Devon winning significant concessions. All were characterised by very lively pickets or demonstrations involving large numbers of workers.

However, the most important battle looming is in the postal service. As we go to press talks have broken down and the Communication Workers Union is to launch a national ballot over pay. At the same time London postal workers will be balloted on London weighting - the unofficial ballot saw a 99.5 percent vote in favour of action. A national or even London-wide strike of postal workers combined with the increasing anger of other workers may well trigger further significant strike action. Whether or not this happens will depend on the confidence of the rank and file and the willingness to organise independently of the union leaders as and when necessary.