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Wednesday 8 July 2015

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Scottish TUSC hears civil servants' union leader's call for industrial and political action

Scottish TUSC conference

Scottish TUSC conference

The Scottish Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) meet in conference on June 27th to discuss plans to field the largest possible number of working class fighters as candidates in next May's elections for Scotland's Parliament.

The platform was dominated by those at the sharp end of fighting austerity, including speakers from the Glasgow School Buses campaign; Graham Nelson, a senior shop steward for Unite and a striking hospital porter from Dundee; and Chris Semani, Unison steward and striking Glasgow caseworker.

Another keynote speaker was Gordon Martin, the Scottish organiser of the RMT transport workers' union, whose members at CalMac are also on strike.

John McInally, National Vice-president. PCS - Public & Commercial Services Union, photo by Paul Mattsson

John McInally, National Vice-president. PCS - Public & Commercial Services Union, photo by Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge)

Also speaking, in a personal capacity, was John McInally, the national vice-president of the Public and Commercial Service Union (PCS). Below is an edited version of John's comments:

"At least one thing is clear from the result of the general election and that is that the strategy of the majority of trade union leaders and the TUC itself of waiting for the return of a Labour government has been a complete failure.

"It was that which underpinned the complete failure of our movement to deliver a serious fight-back against the coalition government, including the refusal to build the type of joint coordinated industrial action across the public sector that was needed to defeat the cuts and the wider austerity programme itself.

"Now the working class has to face the consequences of that failure - unless of course we build effective fighting leaderships across the trade union movement and begin in earnest the task of building an independent political voice for the working class.

"The coalition government outdid even the Thatcher government in its cold brutality. In the interests of the corporate elite this newly elected majority Tory government intends to deepen and extend the ruthless class war being waged on the vast majority in society. Not least of all because they believe they have the measure of the leadership of the trade union movement who they see as not being capable, or willing, to challenge them.

"The scale of the planned assault is terrifying - a further £12bn to be cut from welfare; a further reduction in the welfare cap; between 90,000 to 100,000 civil service job cuts with a million jobs to go in the wider public service; massive cuts in services and mass privatisation, including incidentally the justice system itself, and the systematic destruction of the national health service and the welfare state. This means deepening inequality - even now we have 2.3 million children in poverty - social exclusion and marginalisation and division.

"All of this of course is accompanied by an ideological offensive of an unprecedented nature by the politicians, media, academics and so on to establish an un-contradictable orthodoxy - the great lie - that the poor are responsible for their own condition, that there is no alternative to the market and no alternative to austerity. This is the way they try to justify their brutality.

"In a society that increasing resembles an elective corporate dictatorship a deepening feature is the silencing of opposition and the crushing of dissent. Now we are to see the introduction of more anti-trade union laws on top of what Tony Blair once boasted were the most restrictive in the industrialised world. It is no accident that my union, which has opposed these attacks on our members and our class, has for some time now been targeted by the Tories. But we have survived those attacks and we will emerge stronger and even more capable of fighting back.

The union leaders must co-ordinate action

Scottish TUSC conference

Scottish TUSC conference

"We all know what the Tories intend to do, we all know how bad they are. What we must address is this - what are we going to do to defeat them? We really must pose this fundamental question - the TUC is the biggest democratic force in society with enormous potential strength and influence amongst the working class. If it is incapable of defending its members and its class then what exactly is it for, what exactly is its purpose?

"We know that in attacking us the Tories are operating according to their own class interests. Notwithstanding the obvious honourable exceptions, who has been defending our class interests? The brutal reality is that the leadership of the trade union movement has allowed the Tories to get away with these attacks.

"Unions like the RMT, the PCS and a few other union leaderships understand that when we fight we may not always win but when we do it is remarkable how often we win concessions or make the employer think twice about pressing ahead regardless.

"So today I repeat the call made by our union president Janice Godrich at the Glasgow demonstration last week, and by our general secretary Mark Serwotka in London at the People's Assembly demonstration - we must build joint coordinated action, these attacks are being made on all of us so we must fight back collectively not individually. We can defeat them.

"So to the TUC leadership the message is this - seriously begin the fight back by building joint coordinated action across the public sector and beyond were we can. No more excuses.

"A failure to organise a collective response is not acceptable. A failure to organise a collective response will mean union leaderships will bear a large degree of responsibility for the suffering inflicted on the working class. In resisting these attacks we must be prepared to use our strongest weapon, the one the Tories fear most - collective industrial action. No more excuses.

"In terms of the proposed anti-trade union laws we of course must have a serious debate on the best strategy to oppose them. But we must be firm on this; we cannot allow these laws to be used against an individual union without a united, coordinated response from the entire trade union movement. We must develop an effective strategy to confront these laws. A starting point would be to reject the defeatist view it would be 'impossible' to win ballots under any new laws. Yes, let's have the demonstrations and so forth but let's be clear - taking action together is the most effective way to defeat this attack.

Warning to the SNP

"We must build the fight back on the industrial front but on the political too. Three quarters of the electorate did not vote the Tories. The electoral system is entirely discredited and PCS will campaign for proportional representation as a legitimate demand as part of our strategy against these attacks. The Tories have no mandate and that is not just a question of electoral arithmetic or the electoral system itself. No government ever has any mandate or right to wage war on the vast majority of its own people, taking back all the gains won through generations of working class struggle and which gave at least some measure of security and civilised existence within the profit system.

"A debate is going on throughout the movement. It is right we discuss and reach an analysis. But in some sections there is a view the election means that there has been a shift to the right in society. This is a dangerously wrong conclusion. Every social survey and opinion poll tells us the public are way to the left of the establishment whether it is on the issue of the nationalisation of the railways or the privatisation of the NHS.

"No Tory government since the introduction of universal male suffrage in 1918 has ever had a lower share of the electorate vote for it. But this is not just about figures - it is about processes. Labour offered no alternative to austerity - on the contrary Labour endorsed it. In Scotland the Scottish National Party (SNP), despite carrying out cuts and privatisation, positioned itself as the anti-austerity alternative, as it did during last year's referendum debate, and utterly destroyed Labour in the polls.

"But let's give this clear message to the SNP - no more cuts, no more privatisation of the Cal Mac ferries or anything else for that matter, no more 'it is Westminster to blame' for the cuts. You have just been given an overwhelming mandate from the Scottish people to oppose the cuts. If you refused to implement the cuts you would have mass support, not only in Scotland but throughout these islands.

"But hear this warning too - you may be able to outmanoeuvre Labour but you will not outmanoeuvre the Scottish working class. If you continue to implement the Westminster cuts you will be increasing exposed. So the demand on the Scottish government must be: No cuts, No privatisation, No excuses.

Unions must act politically too

"In England and Wales the same process that destroyed Labour in Scotland is taking place. But as there did not appear to be a clear electoral alternative like the SNP in Scotland, and the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition did not have the social weight or political influence to cut across that as we predicted before the elections - linked to a media blackout on TUSC that sailed close to censorship - workers voted Labour not because they had any enthusiasm for them but because it seemed the only way to get rid of the hated Tories.

"And, albeit in a distorted way, precisely the same process was at play with those millions of workers who voted for the UK Independence Party. It is wrong to suggest those people were all racists or had abandoned any belief in socialist ideals like the health service or welfare state. On the contrary those people are disgusted with mainstream politicians and would be open to an alternative - an independent working class voice that will represent their interests.

"The election result was a big defeat for our class. We must have an open debate throughout the movement. We cannot afford to look inward but worse would be to stick with the same failed strategies that led us to this position. Lots of discussion and debate is going on at present but behind some of that discussion a theme is beginning to develop and it's this - stick with Labour. To go into the next election with a Labour Party committed to an austerity programme - and that is precisely what will happen - will most probably see the Tories re-elected again.

"We are in a dangerous period and some in our movement just don't seem to understand the Tories will never stop kicking us unless we mobilise our full strength to defeat them. Nor do they seem to understand we are in a period where great transformations can take place - that was the lesson of Scotland in both the independence referendum and the recent election. A whole nation have been politicised by the promise of an alternative. And by the way, Labour are finished in Scotland. The idea they will regain lost support on the basis of an austerity agenda is fantasy.

"Some of the discussion in the movement is depressing. More than one person, good lefts by the way, are saying it could take up to twenty years to build a new working class party - nonsense. Given the desire for an alternative a new party backed by the trade unions and committed to a socialist programme a new party could grow very quickly indeed, attracting millions.

"I sometimes think those of us who argue for a new party to represent the working class actually treat the Labour Party, or at rather the Labour Party as it was, more seriously than those arguing to stick with it. Tony Benn correctly used to say the Labour Party was not a socialist party but it had socialists in it. True but only part of the story. Labour may never have been a 'socialist' party but for the greater part of its existence it had the potential to deliver much for the working class, including the welfare state and the NHS. The point now is that potential for Labour to deliver for workers is gone, completely lost and will never be regained.

"The destruction of that potential through the creation of New Labour represents arguably the biggest single defeat ever inflicted on the British working class. Those lefts who are intent on sticking with Labour are like people involved in a catastrophic ship wreck who rather than swimming to the nearest island, building a new ship and continuing their journey, cling desperately to the wreckage despite all the evidence it is going nowhere but the bottom of the sea.

"It was right to fight the takeover of the Labour Party by those who wanted to transform Labour into an American style Democratic Party. But that battle was lost a long time ago.

"Jeremy Corbyn is a good friend of my union, always on our picket lines and supporting our campaigns. He is a good socialist and a genuinely decent man. He is standing in the Labour leadership contest, a late entry to this primary style election and on the ballot paper not through the votes of a strong left in the Parliamentary Labour Party but through the votes of people who would never otherwise give any support to a socialist like him. His standing was not as the result of a thought-out strategy. I want to be clear - we should all wish Jeremy well and hope he does well, in fact, we should hope he wins. But even if he did win it is fanciful to believe that the PLP and the corporatised bureaucrats who now control the party would allow him to move Labour to the left.

Time for a new workers' party

"While not everyone has a strategy everyone has an agenda. For those, particularly the leaders of the Labour affiliated unions, Jeremy's candidature is a godsend. They will argue 'look, you can still discuss socialist ideas in the Labour Party, all is not lost, there's life in the old dog yet - stick with Labour'.

"But this is a failure to accept reality and to learn the lessons of Scotland and of the general election, a failure of perspective and strategy. Labour is finished as a force in terms of effective political representation for the working class. Rather than sticking with Labour - with workers voting for them while holding their noses - surely it must be better to begin the process of building a genuine alternative that will put forward socialist policies that people will vote for, not holding their noses but with enthusiasm and in the hope that by doing so it may actually be a step toward a more fair and equal society.

"It was very important TUSC stood in the general election. If for no other reason it will be historically justified on the basis it was the only force in that election that stood on an absolutely clear and principled no cuts programme. But more than that it was right to stand because despite the fact its votes were still very modest it has begun the real work of building an alternative. TUSC is not the finished article, it is a precursor to establishing a new party that will provide the type of effective political representation for the working class prepared to fight for an alternative to austerity.

"If we are to have a genuine debate about the future of our movement then let's have one. Trying to interdict the idea of building a new party by refusing good class fighters who advocate that strategy on to platforms will not silence that voice. You cannot silence an idea whose time has come. So let's have a genuine, fraternal and honest debate.

"And as part of that debate we would appeal to all in our movement - join us in the task of building a new party".