Britain: Strikes taking place at Heathrow Airport, British Gas, DHL and others

Turn the strikes into an Indefinite General Strike to Bring down the Government

Article by Laurence Humphries, RCIT Britain, 3 February 2021,


With Covid-19 pandemic raging throughout Britain, there are now over 97,000 people dead. Capitalists are preparing to lay workers off using short time working, hire and rehire tactics as well as sackings. However, there is a big response from the workers of various. The Workers of various industries are fighting against the attacks from the bosses but there is even more to fight against. Boris Johnson and his imperialist government is enforcing bonapartist measures against democratic rights and creating isolation via Lockdowns. Poverty, unemployment, hunger, and homelessness exists in this 6th richest imperialist nation on a new level. It is only a matter of time that the combination of the health crisis during this pandemic, the great depression of the capitalist economy and the ongoing bonapartist attacks will lead to social unrest. This is a social explosion in the making and the various workers strikes might be its preface.


Cabin Crew at Heathrow Airport at strike


Cabin crew workers employed at Heathrow airport have been on selective strikes since Christmas when management threatened to sack and dismiss them only to employ them respectively new workers on temporary contracts. Strike action is continuing until February. The capitalists at Heathrow airport are blaming the Covid-19 restrictions as the Johnson government tries to control the virus via border restrictions and reduce traveling. This is eating into their profits at Heathrow.


Workers at Heathrow Airport will next week step up strike action in their increasingly bitter dispute over massive wage cuts that the company is imposing on them through a controversial fire and rehire policy. The workers will be taking a second day of targeted strike action on Monday 14 December and will be staging a huge car-based rally, while also maintaining socially distanced picket lines around Heathrow.


Speakers at the protest will include several local MPs, including John McDonnell MP and James Murray MP, as well as local councillors and representatives of the striking workers. The workers will remain in their cars throughout the protest to avoid the risk of spreading Covid-19.” [1]


The cabin crew workers are members of the trade union Unite. The Bureaucracy of the union is engaging in consultative ballots and negotiations. They are constantly talking to the managers and their limited actions are in support of the Lockdown policy. The bureaucrats are not surprisingly just another part of the Lockdown left who only supports the strike action because of the pressure they face by the militancy of the trade union membership. Like the left activists from the middle class (mainly academics), the labor bureaucracy has all resources for a comfortable existence at home during the lockdowns. Meanwhile, a big part of the working class (mainly migrants) and the poor suffer from the worsening of their working conditions and the fear to lose their very existence. While the cabin crew workers pressure for strike actions, the bureaucracy mourns the time they lose because they must deal with the workers instead of sitting on their couch at home ordering pizza. But the cabin crew workers are not the only ones willing to fight against the capitalist attacks.


Strikes at British Gas


More than 7,000 engineers have been on strike over planned pay cuts and a hire and fire policy by Centrica, the corporate owner of British Gas.


The engineers are members of the GMB, another industrial union like Unite. Again, the bureaucracy in the GMB is using consultative ballots to take decisive action and deal a blow to Centrica.


Thousands of British Gas engineers and call centre workers will down tools from Thursday as part of a national five-day strike in response to the energy giant’s “fire and rehire” plans. The GMB trade union called the strike after 89% of its 9,000 British Gas members voted in favour of industrial action following the breakdown of talks with executives at Britain’s biggest energy supplier last year. The union expects the majority of the 7,000 engineers and 2,000 call centre workers who are part of its membership to take part, but will limit picketing due to coronavirus restrictions. The strike marks the end of months of tense negotiations between union representatives and energy company executives over plans to reduce the workforce and shift employees on to new contracts.” [2]


Strikes at Go-Ahead Manchester (Bus Operator), DHL and Eddie Stobart Logistics


Go-Ahead in Manchester has over 500 bus drivers, who are all members of Unite. The Bus drivers face the same hire and rehire policy where security of employment, decent pay and working conditions are cut massively. Go-Ahead has a shifting share capital, but it shows the widening gulf between rich billionaires and poverty-stricken workers.


Nearly 500 Manchester bus drivers employed by Go North West are facing the threat of being fired and rehired, which will see a 10 per cent reduction in the number of drivers employed, an increase in unpaid working hours and drivers’ conditions slashed Unite has made proposals for cost reductions of around £1 million and a pay freeze worth around £200,000. However the company has deemed these savings insufficient.


Last week, the company announced that it was no longer prepared to negotiate and is now attempting to restart the Section 188 process. This will see existing work schedules ripped up and workers will be nearly £2,500 per annum worse off as they will be forced to work longer hours for no additional pay Unite is demanding that Go North West immediately suspend the threat of firing and rehiring workers who have worked throughout the pandemic and return to the negotiating table If Go North West does not end the threat of fire and rehire, Unite will be utilizing all available options to defend our members’ pay, conditions and job security.” [3]


Another strike is developing amongst Unite members at the DHL supply chain in Croxeth, Liverpool. More than 120 workers have held strike days over the Christmas period and intend to strike during the first days of February. There is a witch-hunt by the management who have suspended or sacked some of the workforce. In December they even called the police, officially because the Covid-19 restrictions have been violated. This was not only pure provocation but is rather another example for the dangerous power that is given to the capitalist class by allowing them to enforce Bonapartist measures like lockdowns against the workers and oppressed. Even the right to strike enshrined in British laws can easily be removed under the cover of health measures during pandemic.


DHL is owned by Deutsche Post (German multinational company) and has been raking in billions of profits with the pandemic as people are using online deliveries more and more.


Liverpool West Derby MP Ian Byrne has accused the police of over-reacting when they intervened on the DHL picket lines this morning. Unite regional officer Kenny Rowe was threatened with arrest shortly before 6am, in an incident witnessed by the Labour MP.


He told “The police over reacted when the pickets wanted to engage with drivers coming in to outline what the dispute was concerning and ask for solidarity. They were shut down which was unnecessary and counterproductive.” [4]


Even the bourgeois media criticized the call for police. “A strike which began at a Liverpool distribution centre is still going strong in the run-up to Christmas. 

The 120 workers at the DHL Liverpool site, who undertake the Burton Biscuits and AB World Foods delivery contract, are striking in a dispute over "low pay, victimization of workers and the complete collapse of industrial relations", say Unite. The union called eight days of strike action, to take place between December 19 and January 5. They warned the dispute could lead to shortages of Burton Biscuits. 

Today a peaceful picket line of striking Liverpool delivery drivers and warehouse staff maintained a presence outside the gates of the DHL Supply Chain depot in Portal Way, off the East Lancs Road in Croxteth. 

They were watched over by a small number of police while Lorries came to and from the site, leading the union to claim the logistics giant was "wasting police time." [5]


At Eddie Stobart Logistics there is a pay freeze for its Lorry drivers in Lancashire. Another section of workers who are members of Unite. They have had an overtime ban and are going to strike from February 28th-March 2nd. Again, Eddie Stobart owners are multi-Billionaires increasing their profit margins from £6 MM to £16 MM.


The Origins of the Trade Union Bureaucracy


The trade union bureaucracy and labor aristocracy fulfill a pernicious role in the labor movement. They are a bureaucratic apparatus which controls the union through a rule book and unappointed officers. The exception is that General Secretaries are now elected, but regional and national officials are appointed through an Executive Council or on advice from the General Secretary. They police the working-class movement on behalf of the bosses respectively the capitalist class. Their role is to act as a brake, ensure that negotiations with the employers continue and at all costs prevent strike action. The rank and file in the trade union meanwhile has no formal possibilities to challenge these bureaucrats except at periodic elections.


V.I. Lenin, the Leader of the Russian revolution explains in his essay Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, the parasitic role of this bureaucratic layer. Monopoly capital in the time of the Empire was able to exploit the Colonies and to amass great profits and wealth for itself. Although the epoch of colonialism is over, the robbery of the former colonies is not. Part of Britain’s wealth accumulated by the exploitation of the semi-colonial countries is still used to buy off an opportunist layer in the working class.


In the past, this layer came from craft workers, electricians and skilled, conservative workers who opposed militancy and became adjuncts of management in the factories when the new mass unions of the 1880’s emerged. One prominent example was the couple Sidney and Beatrice Webb, both Fabian reformist socialists in the 1900’s. Sidney Webb is not only the author of the Clause IV, which described the values and aims of the Labour Party in its constitution. He also became Baron Passfield and served as Secretary of State for the Colonies.


Leon Trotsky, who together with Lenin was leading the Russian revolution, wrote important essays on the nature of this trade union bureaucracy and how they must be expelled and driven from the working-class movement. In his essay called Trade Unions in the Epoch of Imperialist Decay, Trotsky identifies the role of the trade union bureaucracy and their function in the labor movement. “This position is in complete harmony with the social position of the labor aristocracy and the labor Bureaucracy, who fight for a crumb in the share of superprofits of imperialist capitalism. The labor Bureaucrats do their level best in words and deeds to demonstrate to the “democratic” state how Reliable and indispensable they are in peace-time and especially in time of war. By transforming the Trade unions into organs of the state, fascism invents nothing new; it merely draws to their ultimate Conclusion the tendencies inherent in imperialism. It demands of the reformist bureaucracy and the labor aristocracy who pick the crumbs from its banquet table, that they become transformed into its Political police before the eyes of the working class. If that is not achieved, the labor bureaucracy is Driven away and replaced by the fascists. Incidentally, all the efforts of the labor aristocracy in the Service of imperialism cannot in the long run save them from destruction.” [6]


The Errors in Principle of Syndicalism, an essay written in 1923 by Trotsky shows how the trade union bureaucracy polices the working-class movement. “If there were not a bureaucracy of the trade unions, then the police, the army, the courts, the lords, the monarchy would appear before the proletarian masses as nothing but pitiful and ridiculous playthings. The bureaucracy of the trade unions is the backbone of British imperialism. It is by means of this bureaucracy that the bourgeoisie exists, Power must be wrested from the hands of the bourgeoisie, and for that its principal agent, the trade union bureaucracy, must be overthrown.” [7]


Since that time, the key aspect of the bureaucracy in the worker’s movement remained its betrayal of the interest of the workers. This is true for the bureaucracy of Unite, the GMB and other trade unions and it became painfully obvious during the attacks under the cover of fighting the pandemic. In order to really support and develop the strike actions of the workers of DHL, British Gas and all others, a set of revolutionary demands must be the basis in challenging the leadership of the movement.


Revolutionary demands in service of the worker’s struggle


The RCIT in Britain puts forward the following revolutionary demands in order to resolve the crisis of leadership and to successfully challenge the treacherous bureaucracy.


* Full Support of the Strike Actions at Heathrow airport, British Gas, DHL, Go-Ahead and Eddie Stobart Logistics! Build strong links between these strike movements and rally on the streets in solidarity of the strikes! Fight for the organization of strikes in other sectors and the preparation of a big, political strike!


* Reject the Lockdowns! Oppose these attacks on democratic rights! For a Nationalised Health Service controlled by the workers! Especially for companies in the Health sector, we must demand the end of the business secret and the opening of the books! Pharmaceutical companies must now be nationalised under workers control without compensation! Fight for the organizing of an Indefinite General Strike to remove the Boris Johnson government!


* Challenge the trade union bureaucracy by self-organizing of the rank-and-file members! Those bureaucrats not willing to obey to the demands of the membership must be expelled immediately! Overthrow the bureaucratic apparatus and replace it with truly accountable representatives subject to immediate recall! Otherwise, the trade union bureaucracy remains the agent of the Bourgeoisie in the workers movement.


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