Strikes in Britain are at their highest level for thirteen years and the
trend is upwards. The recent council workers' strike involving over one
million people was the largest strike by women workers ever seen in this
country. Fire fighters have voted unanimously at their recall conference to
ballot for strike action over a 40% rise in pay! If this takes place, it
will be the first national strike in 25 years. Rail and tube workers, who
have their own disputes, have threatened to refuse to work on grounds of
safety if there is no fire cover. The general public, according to a recent
Guardian/ICM poll, appear to sympathise with them. The days of workplace
"servitude" seem finally to be coming to an end.
The planned national industrial action by the firefighters is the first for
25 years. It coincides with an increasing radicalisation in the union movement,
which is a culmination of years of bitterness and resentment built up by the
attacks on the wages and conditions of workers in general, and in the public
sector in particular. The FBU is playing a leading role in the struggle for
better wages in the public sector.
At this year's annual Labour Party conference it was quite clear that
Blair is no longer looking as confident as only a few months ago.
He has had to swallow defeat in his own party, on a key issue: the
participation of private capital in the providing of public services
And he also came close to defeat on his plans to wage war on Iraq!
We are witnessing the first steps in what will prove to be a major turn-around
inside the Labour Party over the next period.
At the beginning of this month, as the first wave of strikes loomed the Blair
government was preparing to square up to the firefighters. "Picket lines
might be crossed… no options are being ruled out" Blair triumphantly
proclaimed. This was a blatant threat of attack. Such actions would have put the
government on a collision course with the unions. It shows how removed from
reality Blair is in arrogantly attempting to trample over the concerns of
working people. However they are in for a rude awakening.
Industrial militancy in Britain is on the increase. It reflects a general
mood in the workplace that enough is enough. The Blair government is not only
confronting the first national firefighters' strike in 25 years, but is facing
action on a number of other fronts. This has raised the spectre of another
Winter of Discontent similar to the one faced by the Callaghan government in