Monday, March 18, 2013

The millionaires vs the millions

Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude knew exactly what he was doing when he suggested that motorists fill their cars and jerry cans with fuel in anticipation of a strike by tanker drivers, argues CP general secretary Robert Griffiths in the Morning Star.
His intention was to provoke a prolonged panic of petrol-buying at the pumps, stirring up fear and antagonism aimed at Britain's biggest trade union, which also happens to be linked to the Labour Party.
Whether his message was a ploy to divert public anger from the Budget is beside the point. Maude would have done it anyway. He and his ilk are always keen to take every opportunity to attack organised labour.
It's a class thing. Maude is yet another ex-public schoolboy, one of the 23 multimillionaires in this current Tory-Lib Dem Cabinet of 29. His background in big business includes a stint as the managing director of top merchant bank Morgan Stanley. He is a member of the unelected, illegitimate Tory-Lib Dem coalition cobbled together at the behest of the most powerful section of the capitalist class in Britain, the bankers and financiers. Here are the real "bully boys," who have so far squeezed financial assistance and pledges worth more than £1.4 trillion out of successive British governments, while demanding that public spending be cut by at least £213 billion up to 2016.
For the Francis Maudes of this planet, it is close to intolerable that workers should band together to defend their interests against powerful bosses. Like most other top directors of big companies, he would rather employers deal with employees on a one-to-one basis when it comes to such matters as terms and conditions of employment, rights at work and the rest.
It's all about us being "free individuals" in a "free economy" and a "free society" you see.
Of course, he is fully aware of the gross imbalance in wealth and power between the boss or his - and it usually is a "his" - representative seated on one side of the table and the employee standing on the other. Maude and his class would like things to stay that way. But trade unions have arisen to forge the individually powerless into a body with, potentially, the collective power to redress that balance.
That is why, behind all the pretence of accepting the legitimacy of trade unionism - providing it's "moderate" and "responsible," obviously - there lies the class hatred of Maude and company for organised labour. When organised labour dares to take industrial action, the haters can barely contain their fury. But they do, because people like Maude have been raised and trained to vent their spleen in calm, confident and well-spoken tones.
Although they hold the whip hand, behind their fury also lurks a little fear - that of the potential strength of the working class should it ever become as politically conscious and resolute as the ruling capitalist class.
A barrage of anti-trade union laws, backed up by English common law, shackles the unions to prevent their members from discovering and exercising their potential strength in full. The law does inhibit unions from taking action without jumping through all the statutory hoops first - and it provides a credible excuse for those leaders and officials who do not want their members to take justifiable action. But the courts and anti-union laws cannot always stop the most determined and militant workers from using their collective strength to win victories, as we saw with the Lindsey-inspired construction workers three years ago and the Balfour Beatty electricians this year.
Those who own and control the state and capitalist mass media play an important role in spreading false ideas, dividing people and filling their minds with trivia. That, for instance, is why in all the coverage of the "dangers" presented by a tanker drivers' strike, including Maude's scaremongering remarks and responses to them, almost nothing has been reported about the causes of the dispute.
Why have Unite drivers balloted overwhelmingly for strike action should no agreement be reached with the companies? The Morning Star is one of the very few media outlets to have outlined the workers' fears over safety and job instability. Nor has Maude or any other Tory minister been asked the question that is as rare as rocking-horse droppings.
Just once, when a Tory politician is attacking a trade union for threatening or taking strike action, why not ask them: "Has there ever been an occasion when any leading Tory has supported any group of workers taking industrial action, on any issue whatsoever whether pay, pensions, equal pay, health and safety, bullying, trade union victimisation or anything else?" Provided Poland in the 1980s is excluded, the silence would be deafening. Almost as silent has been the Labour leadership's feeble response to the Tory and mass media offensive against striking workers and the Labour-trade union link.
Ed Miliband and Ed Balls refuse to back workers who are struggling desperately to defend their pensions, wages, jobs and public services. They take union money, but appear to have neither the politics nor the courage to defend the Labour-union link in public. They support most of the cuts - the last Labour government planned £130bn of them - and refuse to reverse the privatisations of rail, water, gas, electricity or anything else.
So far, this Labour leadership will not even commit itself to carry out Labour Party policy to repeal the Tory anti-trade union laws. So much for talk of their "union paymasters."
Yet all the signs are that millions of people could be won to a bold programme for social justice, public ownership and peace to build a people's Britain in place of today's bankers' Britain.
That is the perspective that the labour and progressive movements, and the left including the Communist Party, need to project. When we do, we also know we can count on the Morning Star to help us do it.
Rob Griffiths is general secretary of the Communist Party of Britain.

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