ROBERT GRIFFITHS considers the labour movement's prospects in 2012 - ADVANCE IN  UNITY NOT RETREAT IN DISARRAY

Where stands Britain's labour movement at the beginning of 2012?

 

  In the course of last year, millions of trade unionists in the public sector have demonstrated their willingness to resist the Con-Dem government's attack on their pension schemes.

  They are angry about much else besides. They see the value of their wages being cut, while the public services they struggle to deliver are being slashed to the bone.

  Like millions of other workers and their families, they see the real cost of living rising faster than the bogus picture painted by the official figures.

  Housing and disability benefits are being chopped and a million young people are among the three million – and rising – who are out of work. Yet we are not even one-quarter of the way through the austerity cuts demanded by the finance monopolists in the City of London. Up to 700,000 more jobs are to be scrapped in the public sector, putting hundreds of thousands of workers out of work in the private sector which depends on public sector wages and contracts.

  A major campaigning initiative by trades councils, projecting the People's Charter in place of cuts, would shine a spotlight on the scourge of mass unemployment.

  The gas and electricity monopolies continue to reap huge profits as pensioners and the unemployment dread turning on their heating this winter. Why not a united protest by trade union and pensioner organisations at some of this year's company AGMs?

  Parents and students face a trebling of college tuition fees, setting the secene for a revival of student protest which deserves support from the whole labour movement.

  At the same time, the bankers and speculators continue to enjoy their fat salaries, bonuses and pension pots. Even the timid banking reforms proposed by the Vickers Commission are to be delayed, so that the Tory Party's paymasters can identify and exploit the loopholes in good time.

  This is a Cabinet of millionaires who represent the spivs and speculators in the City and millions of people know it. Its intention is to privatise swathes of our public services, not least health and pre-college education.

  But public sector pension schemes are an obstacle. As the delay in Royal Mail privatisation demonstrates, the private monopolies do not intend to take on any substantial obligation to pay half-decent pensions. After all, they have already closed or reneged on 90 per cent of final salary pension schemes in the private sector.

  Hence the Con-Dem offensive against public sector pensions and the determination to lengthen the working life, increase workers' pension contributions and lower the value of pension remuneration.

  Obviously, none of these principles are to be applied to Cabinet ministers or boardroom executives.

  Only working class unity, backed by a broad section of public opinion, bears the potential to turn back this massive ruling class offensive. 

  Nobody should be so naive as to believe that every public sector worker – let alone those in the private sector – is prepared to strike unselfishly, for the collective good rather than to defend their own pension terms.

  But it is also true that the huge demonstrations and strikes of March 26, June 30 and November 30 have built confidence, solidarity and militancy.

  To break that developing unity now would be calamitous, not only for pensions and public services. It would divide and demoralise many workers and the labour movement as a whole.

  It is sheer delusion to imagine that one or two major pension schemes can be removed from the fight and escorted to safety. 

  Splitting the united front will worsen the prospects for defending the other schemes – and guarantee that any temporarily 'exempted' ones will be even more savagely attacked further down the line.

  'First they came for the civil service scheme, but I was not a civil servant so I did nothing. Then they came for the teachers' scheme, but I was not a teacher ... etc.' Finally, the government will come for the health or local government scheme, and there will be nobody left to act in solidarity.

  Public sector pensions are in the front line. But behind it are wages, union facilities and privatisation. Victory on pensions will also embolden this government to impose regionalised public sector pay, impoverishing millions of workers and inflicting fatal damage on internal trade union unity and membership.

  Rather than take the mangy bait on offer for some pension schemes, union leaderships need to meet and work out a real strategy for defeating the government. 

  For instance, what kind of joint strategy involving publicity, lobbying, industrial action and mass campaigning would be most effective? What should be the minimally acceptable settlement in any scheme in relation to retirement age, contributions, pay-outs and uprating valuation? 

  The Labour Party leadership is embarrassed by union militancy. While Miliband and Balls have inched away from New Labour's craven infatuation with big business and the rich, they have no claim on the loyalty of trade union leaders. That loyalty is owed to trade union members – the millions whose votes Labour will need in local elections on May 3 and at the next General Election; the thousands of union activists who will be doing much of the campaigning for a Labour victory.

  This year's May Day demonstrations should be the biggest for decades and highlight the needs of women, migrant and young workers.

  Faced with the ravages of monopoly capitalism, what all workers and their families need in Britain is hope and confidence in a political alternative to the current unelected, illegitimate regime. 

  This has to be more than a Labour government marginally better than the last bunch of privatising war-mongers.

  The 2011 TUC adopted an Alternative Economic Strategy, although it does not contain the policies of anti-privatisation and public ownership contained in the People's Charter adopted in 2009. Together with the Charter for Women, these provide many of the building blocks for an alternative economic and political strategy, such as that outlined by the Communist Party in its new programme Britain's Road to Socialism.

  Maximum discussion should take place in order to achieve the maximum unity in action. That is why the Morning Star labour and anti-cuts movement conference on March 31 (not March 17 as originally planned) can play an important role in advancing the interests of the working class and peoples of Britain in 2012.

  Smashing this government's austerity and privatisation programme would contribute to the struggle across Europe against EU diktats designed to bail out the banks. We have our own unelected government of the rich, by the rich, for the rich, and it should be swept out of office at the earliest opportunity. 

 

Robert Griffiths is general secretary of the Communist Party of Britain