England: TUC Demo June 18- building for the protest and the problems of leadership

Nigel Smith

Against a background of rising prices, falling real wages, job insecurity and wide-spread austerity, the TUC has called a national demonstration for June 18.

This event also takes place in the context of growing industrial unrest. The RMT (transport workers) is currently balloting for national strike action and the CWU (postal workers) is building for national action in Royal Mail by activating its official four-week process towards industrial action. Workers across the country are under pressure because of falling living standards and out-sourced employees in the NHS and elsewhere are involved in a series of disputes. Given the current callous intransigence of employers and of the Conservative government, these movements will undoubtedly grow. At the same time, the government is attempting to curtail the right to protest and strike, claiming that this is a time of national emergency and therefore strikes should be supressed. 

The TUC is making the following demands: 

  • A real pay rise for every worker – and a real living wage for all
  • Respect and security for all workers – ban zero hour contracts, ban fire and rehire, decent sick pay now
  • End racism at work
  • Tax energy profits to pay our bills
  • Raise universal credit
  • Boost union bargaining rights now

It is also asking for a government that listens and acts to support working people. It is hard to imagine where this government might come from as the Labour Party has largely abandoned any attempt at struggle and takes only a passing interest in the trades union movement. The demands are fine, as far as they go but there is no suggestion, at least on the TUC website, of action beyond what to many feel like a ritualised event. It should be born in mind that in March 2011, when the TUC called for action and over half a million demonstrated in London, that’s exactly what took place. Even though the event was massive, there was no substantive attempt to build from it. Instead, the tops of the unions did a deal with the Tory / Lib Dem government on pensions and pay which led to a period of deteriorating conditions in the work-place ever since. It appears to many that the TUC is calling for this event in order for trades unionists to let off steam and then go back into their boxes, rather than to come out fighting and build for struggle. 

I am minded of this view because this event didn’t come to the attention of our trades union council until April 22nd via a regional TUC email. Two months to plan for a national demonstration makes organising for it using normal trades union structures difficult. Out trades union council (Calderdale) branch could not discuss the event until our monthly meeting on May 18th, giving us just four weeks to organise a coach and build. It was not surprising that the branch, an active and militant branch, voted to fund travel but not to book a coach as one was going from a nearby town (Halifax) and we would be able to use that. Contrast that to the response to COP26, when a local coach was booked and filled. There is also anger at the fact that this event clashes with the Orgreave Truth and Justice rally. Some comrades will be attending the Orgreave event and all comrades were torn by not being able to attend both. Having the TUC rally on the same day seemed a self-defeating strategy and crassly insensitive to the issues surrounding Orgreave and the miner’s strike.

Never-the-less it is important that as many trades unionists and other citizens as possible participate in this event and try to make it a success. A large turnout could give encouragement to workers entering struggle and send a signal that we are entering a time of change. Beyond this, we need a clear strategy from individual unions and the TUC demanding that pay is kept ahead of inflation and that worker’s rights are protected. The RMT is balloting for strike action because its members are being attacked by the government and employers on all fronts: jobs, wages, conditions and safety. Fighting unions such as the RMT should be backed by the TUC and a movement built across all unions, both in the public and private sector. The money is there. The myth that there is no magic money tree has been exploded and the profits of corporations and the incomes of the top 0.1% of earners are increasing dramatically. Wealth re-distribution is long overdue. The working people create the wealth and they should be able to reap its fruits. Join a union, join the June 18th march, build for struggle across all unions and in all work-places.

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