Hundreds of contractors at the Ineos petrochemical plant in Grangemouth, Scotland, went on a wildcat wage strike on Wednesday, blocking access to the refinery for three hours after walking out at 7am.
Workers employed by several contractors opposed a 2.5 per cent wage increase for this year and the same figure for next year. This is effectively a 10 percent pay cut, while inflation is expected to reach 13 percent in a few weeks.
The savage action comes as Amazon warehouse and fulfillment center workers continue a nationwide series of work stoppages and protests sparked last week to oppose a 35-50 pence hike in the hour at sites in Tilbury, Coventry, Rugeley, Bristol, Coalville, Dartford, Belvedere, Hemel Hempstead and Chesterfield.
On the eve of a new round of strikes this week in the railways, more strikes have been announced in other key sectors.
In what could be one of the most economically devastating strikes, 1,900 dockworkers at the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company will walk out for eight days between August 21 and 29 to signal their rejection of a 7 percent plus a £500 bonus. Felixstowe is Britain’s busiest container port, handling 48 percent of the country’s containers. A strike would impact national supply chains, the logistics and road transport sectors, as well as international maritime trade.
On Saturday, train drivers from the ASLEF union will strike for 24 hours in protest over wages and working conditions, and will hit Arriva Rail London, Avanti West Coast, Crosscountry, Greater Anglia (including Stansted Express), Great Western, Hull Trains, LNER, London Overground, Southeastern and West Midlands Trains.
Two more days of strike action by 40,000 rail workers against Network Rail and more than a dozen rail companies called by the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union are scheduled for August 18 and 20. 2,500 members of the Transport Salaried Staffs Association, including controllers and electrical control room operators employed by Network Rail and members of the Unite union, will also strike on those days.
10,000 London Underground workers – members of the RMT – are set to stage a 24-hour pension strike on August 19, joined by 400 London Overground workers employed by Arriva Rail London.
More than 1,600 London United bus drivers, members of Unite, are also set to strike on August 19 and 20 in protest at a pay rise of just 3.6 per cent in 2022 and 4.2 per cent l ‘next year. A strike by Arriva North West bus drivers, members of Unite, is in its third week.
On Monday, the Communication Workers Union announced a four-day strike over the wages of more than 115,000 British postal workers, on August 26 and 31 and September 8 and 9.
1,500 garbage collectors from 15 Scottish councils will strike from August 24-31 against a 2 per cent pay rise.
Criminal justice attorneys have staged numerous work stoppages over the past seven weeks, including a recent five-day stoppage. They are called to walk out uninterrupted in the courts of England and Wales from September 5.
Next month, hundreds of thousands of nurses across England and Wales will be called to vote to strike by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) union. Nurses in Scotland voted in a pay ballot that ended on August 5, and the RCN has yet to announce the results.
The University and College Union (UCU) is also launching a nationwide ballot across the higher education sector for strike action in the September term, in what it calls “ the biggest campaign on pay, conditions and pensions in the history of British higher education”. UCU represents over 84,000 higher education workers.
A general offensive against the employers and the Conservative government is developing, despite all the efforts of the unions to keep a growing number of official strikes separate. It is propelled by the crisis in the cost of living which precipitates millions of workers into a social catastrophe. The upsurge in strikes and strike ballots in Britain is part of an international movement driven by the same issues. It follows the general strikes organized earlier this year in Greece, Italy and Belgium. This week, Ryanair cabin crew in Spain announced that after several days of industrial action in July, they would strike for the next five months. Walkouts in the dispute over wages and vacation pay will take place weekly from Monday to Thursday.
This week, the typical UK household energy bill was forecast to be £4,266 a year from January, up from £1,277 in April this year. ‘Consumer champion’ Martin Lewis warned that ‘millions of households simply won’t be able to afford it… What we are facing here is a life-threatening financial emergency’.
The ongoing competition to replace Boris Johnson as party leader between Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak has confirmed that the government is impervious to any demands for crisis mitigation. He is preparing a new repression, not concessions.
Last month he passed a law allowing agency workers to replace strikers and has already quadrupled the fine for ‘unlawful strikes’ to £1million. It intends to prohibit strikes by different unions at the same workplace over a period of time, impose an absolute limit of six pickets at critical national infrastructure points, prohibit the “bullying remarks” in strike ballots, to delay strikes by giving the employer a “right of reply”, to scrap the law that allows unions to use a strike mandate at any time during the six coming months and to impose a compulsory cooling-off period after each strike, for a maximum of 60 days.
It is not possible to tackle the Conservatives’ class war offensive without workers also attacking the Labor Party and their partners in the union bureaucracy.
While the struggles that erupt would involve an estimated three million workers if collectively mobilised, union leaders have calibrated every organized or planned strike to ensure that no unitary offensive takes place. With very few exceptions, workers go on strike for a few days without anything being coordinated.
When asked this week if he favors a general strike. RMT leader Mick Lynch again insisted that he and other striking union leaders had no power to do so. It was up to ‘companies’ to ‘play their part’ by ‘giving the British worker a pay rise, this is fundamental’. But if that doesn’t happen, then the Trades Union Congress “can call a general strike, not me, if they call it, we’ll support it, absolutely…”
Behind this screen of extremely polite militant rhetoric, which leaves employers and the TUC firmly in the driver’s seat, union leaders such as Lynch, Dave Ward of the CWU and Sharon Graham of Unite protect the other great anti-working-class conspirator, the Labor Party. , of any dispute.
By constantly insisting that Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer “take a stand” and back the workers in struggle, the unions are desperately trying to conceal that Labor is a big business party working in tandem with the Conservative Party. It is equally ruthless in its determination to suppress the working class fightback. Starmer has even banned shadow ministers from the picket lines, declaring an absolute hostility to strikes and the most minimal social reforms, which he denounces as “money tree” economics. .
To advance their struggles, workers must wage a combined industrial and political offensive against the ruling class and all of its political representatives.
The Socialist Equality Party calls on workers to set up rank-and-file committees in every workplace and community to counter union sabotage and begin the process of unifying their struggles into a general strike. Only such a unified movement can defeat a government that is preparing to use all the might of the state against the working class.
The PES also calls on workers to demand immediate general elections. Our aim is neither to harbor illusions about a non-existent parliamentary response to the desperate situation facing workers, nor to repeat the claims of the unions that the Labor Party, even under Starmer, is a lesser evil than the Conservative party. An election would end the de facto coalition between the Conservatives and Labor and provide the working class with an opportunity to organize a common industrial-political struggle against both parties and build support for a socialist alternative to capitalism.
Workers must take their own political destiny into their own hands. They must wage a political struggle for socialism against all the conspirators in Westminster who are now plotting all-out war against Russia and China and allowing the pandemic to run wild while destroying living standards and trashing democratic rights.
(Article published in English on August 11, 2022)