“For Labour to win and to do what is right, our duty is clear – to stand up for one another in the Labour and trade union movement as this summer of solidarity becomes a massive wave of resistance against the Tory offensive and an Autumn of Action.”
By John McDonnell MP
The last year has seen a new wave of radicalism sweeping through the trade union movement with a surge in industrial action, and a resurgence of rank-and-file activity and engagement.
Years of the “quiet life” approach, of “servicing” the members rather than taking the lead in organising them for action are over.
Unions are organising resistance to the class offensive from the establishment, winning strike after strike for their members and crucially, also increasingly winning the battle for public opinion.
After 12 years of austerity, with wages often still below wage levels of a decade ago and the growth of casualised, insecure work, trade union members are increasingly looking to their union for protection and are prepared to take action.
Numerous industrial disputes have broken out across the trade union movement in this period starting with the college lecturers in UCU to RMT’s London Underground workers and PCS members successfully striking in the Royal Parks, to Unite beating off fire and rehire tactics of employers across the economy, and more recently the summer of solidarity with the RMT, TSSA and ASLEF transport strikes, the Criminal Bar strike, CWU strikes in BT and Royal Mail, and many more on the way.
This wave of action is a reaction to the economic realities working-class people are facing. Millions are being hit by the deepening cost-of-living crisis, which has become the key mobilising factor in the increasing wave of industrial disputes, and that is why there is an unprecedented level of sympathy for strikes that have taken place.
In this context, it is extremely concerning we have arrived at a situation where a Labour leader instructed shadow ministers not to attend picket lines.
Concerned perhaps at the reaction of the right-wing media, crass decisions have seemingly been made not to back our unions in disputes, no matter how just their cause.
This won’t help us win the Labour Government we all so desperately need, as it isn’t just a complete misreading of the mood within the Labour and trade union movement but also among the general public, who as are consistently backing those taking action.
When I joined the party, Labour MPs joining picket lines was not exceptional; it was expected of them. Indeed I remember when Labour cabinet ministers joined us on the Grunwick picket lines.
The trade union movement had founded the Labour party to serve as the voice of labour in parliament. To be a Labour party member in those days, you had to demonstrate that you were a trade union member. The basic responsibility of trade union members is to support one another. It’s called solidarity. There was no exemption from the basic duty to show solidarity just because party members and trade unionists had selected you to be an MP and serve the movement as a minister or shadow minister. And this should be the case again.
For Labour to win and to do what is right, our duty is clear – to stand up for one another in the Labour and trade union movement as this summer of solidarity becomes a massive wave of resistance against the Tory offensive and an Autumn of Action.
- You can follow John McDonnell on Facebook and twitter; and listen to “A People’s History with John McDonnell” the podcast from Claim the Future here.
- This article was originally published in print in the Labour Party Conference Special Edition of Labour Outlook – you can view it here.