The strike action planned for this week, which never looked like it was going to be that powerful in the first place, has now been significantly weakened as the local government strike planned for this Tuesday and a dispute on the tube have now both been suspended. Health workers are still out on Monday, and the PCS should still be out on Wednesday, but both groups of workers will now be significantly more isolated. Plan C have a decent leaflet around the midwives’ strike, which looks worthwhile, but crucially falls short of actually criticising the Plan B offered by the unions. This many years into the crisis, with this latest botched strike coming after the drawn-out debacle of the pensions dispute and various other half-hearted attempts from the unions, it’s more obvious than ever that the unions are never going to offer much in the way of real resistance, and that workers need to be organising outside of the union structures and across trade divisions if we want to take control of our own struggles. There’s nothing to be gained by biting our tongues about this fact.
The one-day strike by health workers makes a sharp contrast with another dispute in the health sector, as the Doncaster Care UK strike has now become the longest-running dispute in the history of the NHS. I’m sure that there will be all kinds of local factors that have gone into shaping the Doncaster dispute that would be difficult to replicate elsewhere, but the essential thing to take away is that focusing our energies on organising with the people we live and work alongside in our daily lives can achieve amazing things. Focusing energy, as most of the left does, on lobbying official national structures to step in and deliver action for us will only deliver more half-arsed one-day strikes that may or may not be called off the week before, depending on how our representatives are feeling.
As well as the ongoing Care UK dispute, this week has also seen some grassroots class struggle in the form of the national week of action called by Boycott Workfare, which seems to have included an impressive number of events: most notably the occupation of Urban Futures and the mass blockade of Learn Direct in Edinburgh, but also protests in Norwich, Bristol, Sheffield, Brighton, Stroud, Amsterdam, and a total of ten events in London. Of those events in London, five were organised as a Unite Community event that targeted five jobcentres in one day. I might be reading too much into it here, but I think this might look like a re-run of the dynamics seen in the campaign that drove Atos out of the Work Capacity Assessment contract: first claimants set the agenda by organising independently, and then Unite have to go along with the priorities claimants have set in order to stay relevant. Unions supporting actions by claimants is certainly something that should be welcomed, but it’s not something that can be relied on: as long as the direction of a campaign is decided democratically by the people involved at a grassroots level, there’s no scope for external representatives to sabotage it; as soon as you start relying on an external leadership to organise action, you set yourself up for yet another predictable fall, as local government workers and tube staff are now being reminded.