Those of you who been following the Enough is Enough campaign will have been aware of its fairly clear message. This week it could not be said more clearly than by this Market stall holder from Preston, England:
Hard not to feel those words in your gut right?
The Enough is Enough campaign has the sense of being alert and awake. Whatever role you think this movement is playing in the politics you care about, this alertness is at least punching through.
People are becoming increasingly aware of the weakness of the British economy and those who claim to operate it. During the dwindling daylight hours this movement is providing a sense of reassurance to many, many people.
Let’s be clear though, Enough is Enough Rallies feature very little conversation about Independence for Scotland (if any). Something Ellen Dalzell points out in her Common Weal article and a topic we will no doubt be watching closely. Ellen instead remarks on how the inclusion of community leaders, Renters Unions or groups like Fans Supporting Food Banks makes clear another parallel reassurance: What is being demanded is entirely fair and doing nothing about this would be utterly disastrous.
The second reassurance is evident. This one comes from the fact that Trade Unions are at the helm of this political movement. Myself and a few others from Common Weal attended a protest in Glasgow last weekend under the Enough is Enough title. As the street filled with people and the rally began, I was reminded of the density of Union membership. After all, in any crowd anywhere, who represents your actual fight for wages?
There are politicians engaging with Enough is Enough in an admirable way, but the leadership of the political parties they represent (every single one of the mainstream UK parties) have been clearly hoping the strikes would simply evaporate. What a blatant disregard for reality! And what an embarrasing retreat for the Labour Leadership as their own party members voted through support for striking workers at last week’s Labour Party Conference. It’s practically impossible to find any note of this in any news outlet apart from here.
The strikes are not vanishing. The integrity that Trade Unions bring to UK political discussion is precisely that they remain committed to each of their industrial disputes until they get results.
Other than flat announcements that nurses and teachers have balloted for strike action, why has the the media landscape appeared relatively quiet on the topic? Why despite 50+ cities and towns holding Enough is Enough demonstrations last weekend is the media still lazily vox-popping commuters for their take on train timetable disruptions?
At the time of writing this, It seems real narrative coverage of what’s going on in the life of industrial disputes is scaling down. Are strikes a such a normal part of life now? Or are the negotiations reaching a progress as Scotrail claims this week?
Well no doubt the the media have found the total budget chaos a chance to drop interviews with Mick Lynch, or frontline workers having to turn their boilers off. Instead the press are gleefully trying out a new tone when portraying the Conservative Leadership. I read this online and I think it sums it up perfectly:
“The tories haven’t suddenly become more psychopathically evil, comically inept or completely out of touch with reality, they’ve just pissed off multiple electorally damaging groups of people simultaneously so the press now feel confident enough to stick the boot in.“
When it comes to the relative radio silence on Trade Union action, I have concerns. This week Liz Truss appeared to be pursuing the so called ‘New legal curbs’ on strikes
In short, what this means is ‘union-busting’ on a gigantic scale. Truss is proposing emergency laws to ensure places of work remain open during strike action. Under these proposals a fixed proportion of workers can still go on strike but everyone else has to remain in work. Trains would run, schools would be open. It also means scab labour via contractors would be brought in by the Government directly. This would trash the ability for trade unions to organise. The legality of this is deeply questionable because the right to strike is a fundamental right. All workers are able to leave the workplace during a strike, the disruption is necessary. This leverage is where the power lies in effecting change.
This was a pillar of the Truss’ leadership campaign and further back in the 2019 Tory Manifesto. She has initialled plans to curb the striking rights of teachers, doctors, nurses and firefighters, but there is absolutely no guarantee it would stop there. What this means is YOUR OWN right to strike is being fundamentally threatened by this manoeuvre. That is happening to you this week and is being picked up on very little by the papers.
Could this be simply a threat to unions and ministers to resolve disputes quickly? What if the Conservatives are conceiving of this as a way to look steady, to hold their composure after a terrible fortnight? In any case they hope to crush the reassurance of the most significant left wing movement in the UK.
This may come as no surprise to you but the United Kingdom already has, the most restrictive anti-union laws in Europe. This is not new it has been a phased degrading of our rights over many years.
I remember demonstrating against the so called Trade Union Act of 2016, the anniversary of the demonstrations in Manchester were this week. These demonstrations brought me to care about politics as an activist. This was the latest iteration in law making it increasingly difficult to organise as a Union and act in coalition between unions. The laws raised the minimum threshold of affirmative ballots needed to call a strike. Those thresholds are being met and exceeded by nearly every sector right now. So it’s clear that the Tories are doubling down on their belief that Trade Union solidarity must be destroyed.
Observing the cliques in the extremely right wing Westminster Government fight for power like rats in the sack is compelling to watch, just as the Cassette Boy Tapes are. I guess this is because we feel we are watching in real time. What I want to emphasise is that there is another ‘real time’ unravelling, for those workers who are part of Trade Unions. People who’ve walked out of the workplace to join pickets are now having to re-enter their workplaces once again. Often under the management of certain bosses who actively sought to condemn and undermine efforts to go on strike just yesterday. These relationships are continually fraught. One week a worker stands outside trying to block her manager’s car entering the building, the next week she is back in the portacabins being told which signal boxes to go fix out on the tracks. (I use this example though I know many managers are also strikers, shame on the ones who are not.)
Wages remain the main priority for all working class households. Now those workers who have been asking for fair wages are being confronted by repeated rhetoric that their actions are disruptive and preventing necessary modernisation of their industry. They’re being told their rights are being taken away, struggles will be undermined by state enforced scab labour.
This week Rail Unions have been reaching out to MSP’s and Nicola Sturgeon to very clearly mark their ground and say now is the time the Scottish Government need to stand up in alignment with Unions to say better pay and conditions must be agreed and Scottish Government needs to stand up in opposition to Westminster on this issue.
We cannot be complicit in allowing strikes to be undermined. We must carry on pushing for victories where terms, conditions and pay improvements are guaranteed. I wrote a month ago urging people to join the pickets because our wages hang in the balance to, now we really have to support them because it’s our rights on the line as well.
At the time of writing this: postal workers, telecoms workers, emergency services phone line workers, teachers, hospital workers, maternity staff, refuse workers, workers at container ports like Felixstowe are all holding or planning strikes.
If you want to speak with Common Weal Supporters of the strikes you can join a group on our Campaign Centre Platform. It takes two minutes to join here.