– You can see this strike in every city, every town, and this has a big impact on the consciousness of working people. People are saying: “Hey! Look, if you don’t get paid, if your job is under threat, you can go and strike!” The Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers is really unapologetic. Sometimes you see some trade unions among the right-wing sector of the Labor movement saying: “Well we are realy, really sorry. We just want to do it through negotiations’ ‘.. and RMT is completely different, much more militant. Some people are investigating why Mike Lynch is so popular, what kind of person he is etc. But it is easy: he just represents this general mood, general attitude of the working British people. He says something has to be done with this crisis! And the working class can stop the society from functioning just using strike – says Dylan Cope from English Socialist Appeal organisation, asked about the ongoing RMT strike and crisis of British neoliberalism.
We have to start from Boris Johnson and his resignation. He lied about sexual harassment in his entourage, about parties on Downing Street, and about many other things. There are also labor disputes all over the United Kingdom. What is going on, and what are the perspectives?
It is just a manifestation of a really deep crisis of British society and British capitalism, frankly speaking. What happened to Boris Johnson is only a symbol. There is instability on all fronts as you mentioned. Industrial activity has been steadily rising over last year. The RMT strike was the first big strike. Now from teachers unions to civil servants unions we hear debates about going on strike. In most cases they are underpaid. The ruling class is panicking all over the world, not only here. Here there are a lot of different factions,: some of them are focused on Brexit, some other on leveling up the North. Because after the last election Tories won a lot of seats in the North, the used-to-be fortress of Labor. And they want to keep them by developing those regions, which have been neglected and disindustrialised. Culture war also is a big thing here.
What do you mean by culture war?
As we saw in history, the ruling classes try to pit people against one another, to destroy their sense of community and solidarity. Now the tool here is transphobia, and transphobic sentiment is now on the rise.
Tory members are going to decide who is going to be our next prime minister. First, Conservative MPs are going to narrow it down, then popular vote among the membership is going to choose the PM. And they are really conservative, sometimes racist and chauvinist. They are against everything progressive, so all of the candidates are going to be pushed into the “beauty contest” who is the most reactionary among them. None of them is going to stop this crisis and stabilize the country. The crisis is much too big.They are going to inflame it, just like Johnson did.
The only stable thing here seems to be the foreign policy set against Russia.
Yeah, but Minister of Foreign Affairs Ben Wallace has withdrawn his candidacy from the contest. But you are absolutely right. They all try to picture themself as the most pro-Nato candidate. And then Labor is very much united around British imperialism.
So there is the must-have question here. Who is going to be your next PM?
It is too early to tell. We do not even know who are going to be the final candidates. But whoever ends up as a Tory leader, they are not going to be able to stabilize the situation.
The only horizon here is more inflation, more instability, more industrial action, and more class war.
The reemerging of COVID-19 cases is also going to inflame the situation of the working class, as every criss does. There is no perspective of roaring twenties as someone has called the possibility of economic boom in these years. I really feel sorry for anyone who ends up in the position of British MP.
What created this environment for the blossoming of trade union action all over the country?
There are a number of things. But on everyone’s lips is pay. Inflation is really squeezing the economy up, and it goes further and further. Energy prices are going up and up. And consumer goods too.
Then there is pandemic, brexit…
Yes, and war in Ukraine, and supply chain breakdown. All of those factors are contributing to inflation. It’s an international problem. But in the UK it’s coming on top ten last years of really deep stagnation. So real wages did not rise for ten years. That was accompanied by conservative policy of cuts in every possible public environment, public spending, social weather and benefits. Now with inflation everything adds up.
On the other hand, workers are joining the trade unions, they grow bigger and bigger, and they are angry. The only factor that can stop this madness is the working class itself. There is no one on the political stage that can come in here and save the working class as such.
In 2015 and 2020, we saw the Corbyn movement. The mistakes they made, when it came to getting rid of right-wing sectors of the party, resulted in the Keir Starmer counter-revolution. Now no one is really looking for them to save the country. Starmer is viewed as a member of the establishment. He is a bloody knight! There is barely cigarette paper between his policies and Tories. So people are looking elsewhere.
They have acclaimed Mike Lynch and his strategy against Tories lies. I used to say among my friends they did not want Corbyn and now they got Lynched.
How this RMT strike emerged and what is its role in the current situation?
The RMT – The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers – strike is the first big national strike in recent history. Tory government and media lies were cut through by strikers and their leaders. Public opinion sees that their problems are very similar to those that strikers have to deal with. Pensions, job security, pay and working security issues, the same or similar problems are present among all sectors of the working class. As a result people see that this strike is completely justified. Rail bosses and the government are losing this battle.
You can see this strike in every city, every town, and this has a big impact on the consciousness of working people. People are saying: “Hey! Look, if you don’t get paid, if your job is under threat, you can go and strike!” RMT is really unapologetic. Sometimes you see some trade unions among the right-wing sector of the Labor movement saying: “Well we are realy, really sorry about this. We just want to do it through negotiations”.. and RMT is completely different, is much more militant. Some people are investigating why Mike Lynch is so popular, what kind of person he is. But it’s easy: he just represents this general mood, general attitude of the working British people. He says something has to be done with this crisis! And the working class can stop the society from functioning just using strike.
So who is going to strike next?
How much time have you got (laughter)?
Let’s focus on education first! Because this strike is going to have an impact on the lives of every man in the United Kingdom too.
You are right. The NEU – National Education Union – has been threatening to go on a big strike since their national conference at the beginning of this year. In the wake of this RMT strike they declared that they are going to vote on that in September, so at the beginning of the school year. So we will see them in action in a few months.
The next one should be UCU – University and Colleges Union – have been on strike a couple of times over the last several years. To be honest, they have fought a losing battle in many ways, because doing some disorganised local actions is in fact a failure of the labour movement. The strikes have to be massive from the beginning. All of this sort of union leadership is now thinking: our members can see what good can come after national action, we will follow suit.
Next will be civil servants unions…
Who do you mean by civil servants?
I mean people who work in administration, all big-government departments. They are completely underpaid. The next one is the CWU – Communication Workers Union – there is going to be a big strike, which is going to take place in the private sector, in BT Group. That is going to affect call centres, telecommunication hubs.
And more: posting workers are balloting in the Royal Mail. Very British kind of icon there! They are going on strike during summer! So there will be a whole wave of strikes.
The whole new era of industrial struggle. I think this is really just the beginning.
For me, a Polish journalist, all this is truly impressive. In Poland, strikes are very rare. It is nearly illegal to go on strike, there is so much paperwork. If a strike actually happens, it is like a miracle for us, trade unionists and left-wing commentators. Is it hard to go on strike in the UK?
There are some anti-strike regulations. For instance, in order for a ballot in important public services (including transport) to lead to industrial action, a trade union must obtain the support of at least 40% of all union members entitled to vote in the ballot, on top of reaching a 50% participation threshold in the ballot itself. You need to get elected, you need to get documents, so here, too, the activists must deal with loads of paperwork. It’s not only about workplace meetings, like someone might imagine, but it’s more about postal ballots. People may forget, there might be problems with posting it.
So it takes months to go on strike?
Indeed, it can take a lot of time. Also unions have to build up a whole campaign to inform their members and colleagues about the ballot. The government has just passed a bill that allows agency workers to scab effectively on strike action. That is a big problem. That will make strike action ineffective. There will be much more pressure on trade union leaders, because there is a question of respecting those laws.
In the end… the best tradition of the labour movement in Britain is to break the law.
So if we are talking about breaking the law… Where is the police force in all of that, are they underpaid as well?
Yeah, this is the thing! This is not just a political crisis, and this example shows it clearly. All sections of the British state are in deep crisis. The police have just voted no confidence for the minister Priti Patel. The police have been underfunded for the last ten years.
Different police constabularies have to send their resources to other police areas who need them more. The police is in a complete disarray. It shows us to what extent Tory party is corrupted right now. When Thatcher was elected in 79’ the first thing she did, she increased police funding. She wanted to be sure that they would be on her side when breaking the unions. But also courts are underfunded right now.
There is even a barrister strike right now, because the conditions and pay are really horrible. Barrister strike! Some people would never imagine they could go on strike.
Mike Lynch said that it was not his problem that he did not have the backing of the Labour Party, but it was the Labour’s problem that they did not have the support of working class. So where is the Labour Party in all that?
Ever since Starmer was elected two years ago, his core mission has been to undo everything that was done under the Corbyn leadership. He attacked the left, MPs and rank and file members as well. He suspended thousands of members. Under Corbyn the Labour Party was one of the biggest in the world, now it is half smaller. There is even a financial crisis in the party right now.
Under Starmer the Labour Party is trying to picture herself as a sensible party of government, of security and prosperity. They have tried to ban their MPs from backing RMT’s strikers on the picket lines. Some MPs have rejected this nonsense. But it is the best example of what’s been going on in the Labour Party. If they are going to win the next election, it is going to be purely anti-Tory vote, there is no support for Starmer among the people. A couple of weeks ago Starmer was still polling lower than Johnson. People can really see him through, he is a bloody knight for God’s sake. The Labour Party has really little of people’s support.
Is there any possibility of change, a kind of revolution in the Labour Party, or the possibility that was completely cut out by Starmer?
I think that’s something we may see in the upcoming years. That’s going to come through the experience of trade unions, thanks to the developing strike wave. Workers and ordinary members are going to fuel that revolution. From those struggles and battles the new left will emerge among unions. The Labour Party in the end is the party of trade unions, they are still the biggest financial supporters of the party.