London party

Unite postpones London bus strikes out of respect for the Queen and offers members a pay offer below inflation

Unite has followed all other major unions in response to the death of Queen Elizabeth II by calling off a planned strike during the period of “national mourning” which runs until her state funeral on September 19.

On Monday, Unite announced it was “postponing” strikes at London United by 1,600 bus drivers scheduled for Thursday and Friday, part of a long-running fight for a wage reward above inflation.

Unite notice announcing the cancellation of this week’s strikes [Photo by Unite union]

Unite’s statement read: “Following the death of the Queen and out of respect for the period of national mourning, the industrial action which was due to take place on 15 and 16 September 2022 will now be postponed. For the avoidance of doubt, you must report to all tasks as normal. »

The Queen’s death is being used to achieve goals that the Employers, Conservative Government, Labor Party and Trades Union Congress (TUC) have been seeking for months: to take strikes off the agenda and quell growing opposition the fiercest attack on living standards since the Great Depression, overseen by the Conservative government and its new Prime Minister Liz Truss.

Unite joined the RMT, ASLEF, TSSA, CWU and other unions to call off strikes involving more than 150,000 workers. They are helping to impose a broader crackdown on democratic rights, with new laws being used to arrest people simply for expressing their opposition to the monarchy. Sir Keir Starmer has banned Labor MPs from posting any social media posts other than expressions of sympathy and support for the Royal Family.

This regime of “national mourning”, imposed by censorship and repression, is directed against the working class.

At London United, as Unite postponed this week’s strike, it is proceeding to ballot drivers on Thursday on the company’s 10% below-inflation pay offer, almost 3% below the August RPI inflation rate of 12.3%. Sharon Graham, before her election as General Secretary, said that “anything below the RPI is a pay cut”. This rhetoric has since evaporated.

The overall company figure of 10% is the usual smoke and mirrors. The deal consists of 10% for three months, from September 3 to December of this year. The previous nine months, which run from December 2021 to September 2, 2022, will only attract 9%, for a total remuneration of 9.25%. No wonder company executives called it “good news!” that Unite agreed to vote its members on the deal.

Demands for “national unity” from Conservative and Labor politicians, religious leaders, media, armed forces, academics and union bureaucrats are outright hypocrisy. While the strikes have been called off, the British ruling class has not halted for a moment its own class war against the working class, nor its ruthless profiteering, nor its escalation of the military offensive against Russia in Ukraine which threatens to start a nuclear war.

Railway and postal workers who were due to strike this week have angrily denounced the union’s calling off of their strikes. Comments left on RMT’s social media accounts, which were later deleted by the union, included:

“Are attacks on workers’ rights also suspended?

“Sitting in a canteen full of railroad workers and their fury about it. Have the Tories stopped their attack on labour?

“What or who is it for? Was the Queen known to be a longtime supporter of transport workers? Why screw up your members on his account?

The anti-democratic actions of the unions are not an aberration. Last week, Unite, the RMT and the GMB denounced wildcat strikes by oil and gas workers in the North Sea who demanded a pay rise in line with the cost of living for companies that have raked in billions. The union’s joint statement with the companies called the strikes “a smashing job for short-term gains”.

Corporate unions and their wealthy leaders feared the oil rig strikes could trigger a broader grassroots movement amid growing class anger over energy company profiteering that is plunging millions into poverty abject.

London United drivers on the Shepherd’s Bush Garage Bus picket line in London [Photo: WSWS]

The events of the past week underscore the need for rank-and-file committees in every workplace, allowing workers to take control of their own struggle, break the grip of union bureaucracy and launch an industrial and political campaign to unite the struggles of bus, rail, London Underground, postal, BT, port and oil rig workers in a common offensive.

By insisting that workers call off strikes out of respect for an unelected monarch and head of state – the embodiment of class and aristocratic privilege – Unite spits on the traditions of the labor movement.

Recall that in 1937, 30,000 London bus workers went on a 4-week strike during the coronation of Elizabeth II’s father, King George VI, demanding better working conditions and a reduction in the working day by 8 hours to 7:30 a.m. . The coronation bus strikes began on May 1, 1937 and continued in the face of a media barrage. The strike won the sympathy of Londoners during the starving thirties, with the grassroots movement issuing strike bulletins, leaflets and pamphlets which were read by thousands.

Political leadership in this struggle came from the bus workers of the Communist Party, and the determination of the strikers reflected the socialist and revolutionary sentiments that animated the international labor movement in the first decades of the 20th century, inspired by the example of the Revolution Russian.

The strike was ultimately betrayed by Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU) General Secretary Ernest Bevin, who ensured that the bus workers’ struggle was isolated from rail and London Underground workers. After isolating and exhausting the conflict, Bevin then decided to break up the grassroots organizations, firing his central leaders. The leadership of the Stalinist Communist Party of Britain (CPGB) refused to oppose Bevin’s actions in line with his Popular Front policy of seeking alliances with the Labor and union bureaucracy, and the grassroots movement was dissipated.

As socialist leader James Connolly wrote in 1910, following a visit to Ireland by King George V, “…a people mentally poisoned by the adulation of royalty can never achieve that spirit of self-governing democracy necessary for the realization of social freedom. The mind accustomed to political kings is easily reconciled with social kings—the capitalist kings of the workshop, the factory, the railroad, the ships and the docks. the coronation and king’s visits are transformed by our shrewd masters who never sleep into huge imperialist propaganda campaigns for political and social plans against democracy But if our masters and rulers are sleepless in their schemes against us, so we, rebels against their rule, must never sleep in our appeal to our fellow human beings to also publicly uphold our belief in the dignity of our class – in ultimate sovereignty. me of those who work. »

London bus workers must reclaim the traditions of the socialist movement, including the courageous stand taken by workers during the Coronation bus strikes. It means opposing Unite’s insistence that workers submit to royalty and their undemocratic strike cancellation. This means ensuring that the interests of the working class and its independence from the ruling class are respected at all times, rejecting the moralizing appeals, pleas and censorship of bourgeois public opinion.