Stop the sell-outs – step up the strikes

09 March 2023

THE STRIKE wave in response to the bosses’ offensive, which threatens to rob workers and the poor of 15% or more of their real income over two years, has given a welcome boost to millions.

The number of walkouts over the past nine months marks the most sustained and widespread strike action for 30 years—despite undemocratic anti-union laws preventing hundreds of thousands more from joining the fight.

Junior doctors are the latest to step up, striking on 13–15 March. The movement is growing still. In the words of Mick Lynch, ‘The working class is back!’

Beware sell-outs

Yet we face a turning point. The employers and the Tory government show signs of cracking. Their offer of a lump sum plus 5% (another pay cut) next year is of course an insult. But it shows they’re worried.

So why are our union leaders calling off strikes for the first few crumbs to fall from the bosses’ table?

First Matt Wrack (firefighters’ leader), then Jo Grady (lecturers), swiftly followed by Pat Cullen (nurses) undemocratically called off strikes in the space of a week. 

These six-figure salaried bureaucrats just want something they can ‘sell’ to their union members. 

There’s £30 billion in the Treasury coffers and untold billions more in company profits to pay for a real pay rise for all. Now is the time to step up the action and seize Rishi Sunak and Jeremy Hunt by the throat. But how can we do it?

The union leaders’ strategy of limiting action to one or two day strikes, followed by lengthy periods of secret talks, is not working. It’s not rocket science; tens of thousands of militant strikers know what to do.

We need sharply escalating strikes, up to and including all-out strike action. We need more coordination of strikes and demos so we can feel our strength and generalise our demands.

All out 15 March

We can start by making the joint strike on 15 March, Budget Day, as big as possible. Teachers, civil servants, tube drivers and doctors are all coming out. No one should cross their picket lines. Teaching assistants, nurses and RMT members on the Underground should meet beforehand and agree not to cross.

Executive committee members in the NEU and PCS have launched a petition for a joint demo on 15 March. Everyone should sign it and join the protests in London and Cardiff.

But 15 March should not be the last hurrah before the individual unions shuffle off to accept miniscule pay-offs. It must be the start of a rank & file revolt, which should not stop until we control our disputes, stop the sell-outs and step up the strikes.

In the lecturers’ UCU union the left is organising to overturn Grady’s ‘pausing’ of the action and restart the strikes. The NEU has been forced to convene strike committees in schools. Nurses are balloting inside Unite to restart the strikes abandoned by the RCN.

There has even been unofficial action organised from below, among the oil workers, at Amazon and among teaching assistants.

Added to this, local solidarity committees to support the strikes are springing up across the country. Some use the Enough is Enough logo, others call themselves People Assemblies, more still are ad hoc groups of socialists and trade unionists. All are doing good work.

Rank & file

The potential for a movement of the rank & file—within each union and across them—clearly exists. But to take the next step, so we can really challenge, hold to account and if necessary defy our national leaders, we need to organise nationally.

We appeal to all militant trade unionists and socialists, all the scattered strike committees and solidarity groups, all the socialist groups to meet together regionally and build for a national conference as soon as possible, so we can hammer out a joint plan to step up the action with the union leaders where possible, without and against them where necessary.

Rather than detract from the struggle in individual sectors, unions and workplaces, we believe that such a call can provide a new spur to action. It can raise the profile of a fighting alternative to the union bureaucrats, while at the same time building for each and every strike, each and every demo.

The stakes are high. Time is short. We must unite to maximise the strength of the rank & file against our common enemies—not just the ruling class but also the officials who are blocking the road to victory. The twin goals of defeating the Tories and the profiteering bosses and rebuilding our union from below stand before us. Let’s fight!


Class struggle bulletin

Stay up to date with our weekly newsletter