10 Days Remaining

Saturday 24th
posted by Morning Star in Features

Working people are no longer buying the Tories’ claims that Britain would be better off without a strong trade union movement, write DAVE WARD

WE’VE seen significant industrial action in the run-up to Christmas — and a lot of huffing and puffing from the Tories and sections of the media in response.

The right-wing papers scream about a “Christmas of discontent” and call for unions to be punished, while Theresa May accuses strikers of showing “contempt” for ordinary people.

CWU members at Crown post offices are among those who have been striking this week and our dispute is about the thousands of job losses we’re seeing this year as branches are being shut down and franchised. It’s about a complete loss of job security for our members as the Post Office steadily cuts jobs every year on a path of managed decline.

And it’s about pension changes that will leave many of our members — staff who have spent their lives working in the Post Office — tens of thousands of pounds worse off in retirement.

The accusation that in fighting for our members’ rights we have no regard for working people barely merits a response.

In truth what we have seen with the Post Office over the past six years is a case study in the limits of business and government thinking when it comes to public services, jobs and key industries in this country.

The argument that a business leader is doing well just because they hit a set of numbers on a balance sheet, regardless of whether the business has a long-term future or provides its staff with a level of security, has been exposed by scandals such as the collapse of BHS.

But the Post Office’s franchising plans are in their way every bit as irresponsible as Sir Philip Green paying his family dividends that ended by crippling the company.

A business model that involves giving up your position on 300 British high streets and paying public money to make well-trained and well-paid staff redundant, so the likes of WH SMITH can hire untrained staff, pay them the minimum wage and offer a smaller range of services out of the back of their shops — that’s totally wrong-headed.

And I think people are waking up to the fact that this franchising and privatising model is not sustainable for Britain.

I’ve noticed that we’re starting to gain traction in interviews when we make that case and that we’ve had the best of the exchanges in the media.

You can even sense in conversations with Conservatives and the government that they’re uncomfortable — how are their big statements on being the party of working people going to look when it’s revealed that their whole business and industrial strategy is a busted flush?

And that’s why, I reckon, despite calls from some backbench Tories and newspaper editorials for May to go on the attack against the unions, she’s seemingly taken a step back.

They can see that they’re not winning the argument on this. People simply do not buy the idea that somehow Britain would be a better place if the trade union movement was put back in its box.

The core issue is that workers everywhere are under real pressure to work harder, faster and cheaper, and many of them are losing out when it comes to pensions too.

People aren’t going to put up with it. When the very idea that if you work hard and keep your head down you’ll get on in life is demonstrably untrue, people across the political spectrum can see that something fundamental has gone wrong.

I’ve never been more convinced that if we bring together a few key arguments and get the trade union movement behind them we could start to make waves.

Central to doing so is making what’s happening in the world of work our number one political issue — ahead even of Brexit.

The labour movement is not going to unite around whether we want a “hard” or a “soft” Brexit.

It’s got to unite around standing up for working people, holding the government to account rather than second-guessing what May might or might not say in negotiations.

We’ve got to open up another flank, if you like. And that’s how we tackle racism too and deal with the rise of the far right.

You can’t just lecture people. You have to give them a cause to unite around. People who see that the left is fighting for a better deal for them and their families are far more likely to listen when we tell them immigrants are not the cause of their problems.

We’ve got to have the confidence to follow through on the motion we passed at the TUC, moved by the CWU and seconded by the GMB, on fighting for a new deal for workers.

A deal that ends insecure employment — not just zero-hours but jobs without proper sick or holiday pay, bogus self-employment, the lot.

One that shifts the burden of pensions back onto the shoulders of companies and governments rather than individual workers.

One that unites our movement on the issues that affect us all — housing, public services and the NHS, pay and pensions.

Let our Brexit approach reflect how we go about achieving that deal, rather than trying to shoe-horn our demands into one or another Brexit strategy.

I’ve said before that if Jeremy Corbyn can get 500,000 people to join the Labour Party then the trade union movement can get a million people on the streets. I’m proud of our members who’ve taken strike action this week and send our solidarity to members of other unions who are in dispute with their employers.

The government is trying to make these disputes political, but it will rebound on them. I can sense that we’re not far from a breakthrough.

Merry Christmas and a happy new year to the Morning Star and its readers — now let’s start organising and get people onto the streets in 2017.

  • Dave Ward is general secretary of the Communication Workers Union.