November is set to be a crucial month for trade union members in Britain. With the third reading of the Tories’ Trade Union Bill due to take place this month we have a fight on our hands to defend our rights.
And this fight is not abstract — steel workers now fighting to defend their livelihoods, junior doctors taking to the streets in their tens of thousands, and public sector workers facing the eleventh year of pay restraint, all desperately need strong collective struggles.
Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS civil servants’ union, said at a recent rally against the bill:
The real key to stopping the bill is mobilising the 6.5 million trade union members who will be hugely affected and making it relevant to them in their own workplaces so they understand what’s at stake.
And this is a clear message from our roundtable discussion with the victorious National Gallery strikers. They won guarantees on pay and conditions as well as reinstatement for victimised union activist Candy Udwin.
Young workers were convinced of the need for workplace organisation, and people who weren’t even members a year ago are now union reps.
As we go to press another union activist, SOAS Unison branch secretary Sandy Nicoll, has been suspended by management on trumped up charges.
An instant response from dozens of his co-workers, who refused to go into work the next morning, is an encouraging sign.
But this is just a taster of the kind of attacks we could see if the Tories’ bill goes through.
As Serwotka put it, “People will never have needed their trade union more than they are going to need it in the next few years.”
But the key to beating the Tories isn’t only in the workplaces. Another lesson of the National Gallery dispute is that big politics is the route to winning widespread support and solidarity.
Corbyn’s victory and the shift it represents in breaking the neoliberal consensus is crucial.
Momentum, a group bringing together Corbyn supporters from within and without the Labour Party is a welcome development, allowing anti-austerity, anti-racist and anti-war campaigners to organise together on the ground.
The response to the refugee crisis, with thousands of people organising collections and delegations to the “Jungle” in Calais, has also shown how divisions can be overcome in our class.
All of these activities involve building networks — at work and in communities — and this will be essential to beat the bill.
If the bill passes, we have to be ready at an instant to come out in our thousands and millions to defend each and every trade unionist.
KEY DATES IN NOVEMBER
Monday 2: TUC lobby of parliament against the Trade Union Bill, from 1pm, followed by protest in Parliament Square called by
the Trade Union Coordinating Group (TUCG) from 6pm
On the day the bill is read: Protest from 6pm in Parliament Square and in towns across the country
Saturday 14: Unite the Resistance conference:
Fight austerity, Defend our unions
11am-5pm, Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church
Saturday 21: TUCG event:
After the Corbyn victory — Build the fight against austerity
1.30-4.30pm, Methodist Central Hall, Westminster