The Bourgeoisie Is Attacking Proletarians in Struggle by Reinforcing its Legal and Repressive Anti-Strike Arsenal
(«Proletarian»; Nr. 20; Autumn-Winter 2023)
In a previous statement in August 2022 (1), we described and denounced the impasse in which the state and its transmission belts for the defence of social peace, the labour union bodies, have locked the proletarians in order to defend the general interests of British capitalism.
Although perfectly framed by the official trade union organisations, the proletarians have shown throughout the last year, and will show it again this year, that they are capable of mobilising to defend their class interests against the brutal attacks on their living conditions, which have been severely degraded notably, but mainly, by inflation. This degradation of their material living conditions was also superimposed on the continuous degradation of their social living conditions, of which the decay of public health is a major factor. Their struggle also showed how serious the state’s repressive escalation against strikes is. At the end of the year, the pressure from the state took the form of the mobilisation of the army and civil servants to hinder and reduce the impact of strikes, including that of the ambulance drivers. A staggering 2,000 different personnel were mobilised against the strikers, including 1,200 military personnel!
Every time there is a major movement of proletarian or more generally social struggle, the bourgeoisie seeks to defend its interests as immediately and radically as possible by strengthening the restrictions of rights and the criminal charges against the actors of the struggles. At the moment in the UK, it is a question of worsening the conditions of the right to strike so as to further paralyse the working class, thus paralysing all spontaneity and independence of struggle, by erecting more and more legal obstacles allowing it to use its justice and police against it. Bourgeois «law», which is by nature unequal for the working class, is the arsenal from which the bourgeoisie and its accomplices in the trade union world and opportunism draw to confine the proletariat within the high walls of «social peace» and «dialogue between partners». And it is from the parliaments, the factories of bourgeois law, that the cannon shots against the proletarians are fired.
The parliamentary or extra-parliamentary lefts in general, speak of a «frontal attack against democratic rights», already orienting the proletariat in a false direction. Let’s remember that bourgeois democracy, which they want to be so pure and perfect, at the service of the people and the workers, is by nature anti-working class and represents the political organisation of capitalism and the dominant bourgeois classes. To always bring the proletariat back to more democracy is the best way to paralyse the development of its struggle in a classist and ultimately class sense, i.e. as a class antagonistic to capital. On the contrary, it is necessary to get the proletarians out of this illusion that democracy, represented by the bourgeois state, can be called to the rescue when they suffer the attacks of the bourgeoisie, notably by the restrictions or prohibitions of liberties. They must not «beg», even if they engage in an appearance of struggle for it, for «good» laws, but fight to bring down anti-proletarian legislative measures by the means of class struggle.
After the disastrous episode, for the «image» of the British Parliament, of the resignation of Liz Truss, the Prime Minister who succeeded Boris Johnson and was debunked by the London Stock Exchange, Rishi Sunak, the newly elected Prime Minister, has just gone on the offensive by proposing new anti-labour and anti-strike laws. This is not a surprise, he had already expressed this powerful idea of tightening the screws on social struggles at the beginning of the strike movement. At the end of October, at his investiture, he announced «difficult decisions». Difficult for whom? For the proletarians, not for the bourgeois, who were all delighted by his words.
So on Thursday 5 January Rishi Sunak announced the colour of his «new hard laws» by confirming the preparation of yet another anti-strike law consisting of imposing a minimum service on workers in certain sectors, such as health, rail or road transport, postal services, education, etc. (2) in the name of «public security». This kind of justification is very old-fashioned. If the bourgeoisie really cared about workers’ health, why would they let the NHS fall into ruin? It’s the security of profits that we should be talking about, since the very nature of the balance of power imposed on capital by the strike is to attack what it holds most dear: profits, the level of which we know is inversely proportional to that of wages. Moreover, it should be noted that inflation is always put at the service of capital as a tool to devalue wages against profits and thus to bail them out in times of crisis at the best of the relations of force between classes. This is a unique opportunity at the moment for the protagonists of the economy to defend their wallets and this explains why they are fighting so hard to never compensate inflation on wages. This announcement is therefore a logical accompaniment to the British government’s clear refusal to compensate public sector wages, encouraging and supporting all other capitalists to do the same and more.
But it is not only the Tories who are against the proletariat. In December 2022, the Labour Party declared that if it came back to power, it would not accept the demand of nurses, who, as in France, have seen their purchasing power plummet in recent years and have therefore legitimately presented the bill for a 19% adjustment to their salaries.
This law under discussion to impose a minimum service could be only the preamble of a law going even further in the state brutality against proletarians: that of prohibiting the act itself of strike. We can quibble about the chances of success of such a project in Parliament, but in the immediate future, waving it around as a scarecrow will make it possible to toughen up the package of other laws on minimum service.
Limiting the right to strike through the obligation to maintain activity in the public-private service sectors is, however, only the first part of Rishi Sunak’s project. The second is to further strengthen the maze of laws concerning the legal conditions for strikes, in a way adding another layer to the already numerous anti-strike regulations. The plan is to break the legal possibility of strike action from the very beginning of negotiations. In practice, the unions will have to submit the employers’ proposals resulting from these first imposed negotiations to a vote of their members. Only if the members reject these proposals will the unions be able to start the long and tortuous procedure of authorising a strike. The principle has been retained, and it remains for the government to discuss the modalities of application, such as the limits of the approval or refusal rates of the employers’ proposals by the union members. But let’s bet that at this level it will still be able to raise this first obstacle to the strike.
The aim of this new legal trap is of course to complicate the procedures and to increase the number of bureaucratic obstacles in order to lengthen even more the time necessary to authorise a strike and thus to tire and demoralise the proletarians more and more effectively (3). The method is to suffocate the proletarians with mind-boggling formal procedures. And beware of the judge’s sentence if the envelopes of the ballot papers used during the consultations organised by the unions among their members are not pre-stamped in accordance with the rules, if the consultations are not supervised by an office and certified control agents, etc... There are all sorts of «codes» to follow for the organisation and the running of a strike. For example, the «code of practice» for organising votes is 25 pages long, but there is also a «code» for picketing (Code of practice on Picketing) of 20 pages and 67 articles. And there are many more that we will not mention here!
In this context, with such roadblocks, it is easy to understand that proletarians are incapable of organising strikes which would respect the legal frameworks and protect them from legal wrath. Faced with bureaucratic procedures, they need other bureaucrats, trade unionists this time, who are the only ones who can master this procedural jungle. It’s a gift from the bourgeoisie to the unions which offers them the opportunity not to lose control of the working class by avoiding any autonomy of struggles, any attempt to escape the programmed channelling of these struggles.
The bourgeois order, the one which ensures an efficient exploitation of wage labour, needs relays within the working class. In the United Kingdom, these procedures and this tight legal control of the use of the strike weapon are the striking formalisation of this.
The classist and independent struggle of the proletariat in the UK must not go through a democratic debate on the «right to strike» which would only lead to new legal-administrative instruments more presentable to a certain «public opinion» certainly, but no less effective for social control. If the proletarians want to recover their independence of struggle, as they masterfully used it during the miners’ strike of 1984-1985, they will inevitably have to fight, with their class weapons, the corset of anti-strike and anti-organisation laws which throw them into the arms of the pro-capitalist trade-union bureaucracy. It will only be through the balance of power of their struggles that this wall against the right to strike, erected by successive governments, both conservative and labour, will be shaken. They will have to fight against the morbid legal trap of the crumbling and scattering of their forces and against this generalisation of alibi or «synchronised» strikes that the trade union apparatuses concoct to perfection, whose function is to ensure and reinforce the anti-proletarian social corset.
- Down with anti-strike laws!
- Down with repressive blackmail on proletarians and their struggles!
- Let’s revive the solidarity strikes, forbidden today!
- Long live class independence!
- Class solidarity with the proletarians of the UK!
(1) See Proletarian n° 19, Autumn 2022
(2) The Prime Minister has not forgotten the border police sector either! Now he needs it more than ever with his policy of deporting illegal immigrants, wherever they come from, to Rwanda, which is happy to receive some £120 million for this.
(3) Kwasi Kwarteng, Chancellor of the Exchequer, puts it this way: «We will legislate to require unions to put pay offers (those of the bosses, editor’s note) to a member vote to ensure that strikes can only be called once negotiations have genuinely broken down». The bosses will know how to drag out these preliminary stages of negotiation in order to convince as many workers as possible that it is not in their interest to refuse their proposals.
January, 11th 2023
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