Saturday’s day of action, dubbed a ‘mega-strike’ by unions, brought the UK’s railways, postal system and much of the UK’s container traffic to a standstill.
The strikes took place alongside protests organized by “Enough is Enough” (EiE), the pressure group founded by the Rail, Maritime, and Transport (RMT) union, the Communication Workers Union – CWU) and Labor MPs allied to former party leader Jeremy Corbyn. Tens of thousands of people gathered collectively in major cities including London, Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle and Glasgow.
These are the first coordinated strikes since the start of a wave of summer strikes that saw workers in key sectors fight for higher wages to fight record inflation and oppose the assault on jobs, working conditions and pension rights.
Postal workers went on strike for 48 hours from Friday. The strike by members of the ‘Unite’ union at the ports of Liverpool and Felixstowe has affected 60 per cent of UK container traffic.
In total, some 170,000 workers took part in Saturday’s strikes. Among them: 115,000 postal workers, 54,000 railway workers and 2,600 port workers. The strikes were called by the CWU, the RMT, the Transport Workers’ Association (TSSA) and the union Unite.
The rail strikes have affected infrastructure group Network Rail and 14 train operating companies (TOCs). Around 40,000 RMT members were on strike, along with 9,000 ASLEF drivers in 12 TOCs, while 5,000 TSSA members were mobilised. The several hundred Unite members in the rail sector were also on strike.
No trains ran between major cities in the UK, and only 11 per cent of scheduled services were operated domestically. The strike affected “Transport for London”, which was unable to provide any service on the London Overground. The action had a ripple effect on Sunday, with services disrupted for the opening day of the ruling Conservative Party conference in Birmingham.
The main Enough is Enough rally was held outside King’s Cross station in London and drew around 4,000 people.
CWU leader Dave Ward told the rally that “more action” was ahead and that “better coordination” was needed. He said: “The reality is that the Tories, the bosses and the super rich have coordinated massive attacks on the working class for years and years. The difference is that now we are on the move”.
It was hollow demagoguery. The CWU and other unions have divided workers and stifled combined action throughout the “summer of discontent” and called for a single day of coordinated protest Saturday to vent. Ward carefully avoided any reference to a general strike to bring down the Conservative government. Instead, the CWU and RMT are looking to use limited strikes to broker a rotten deal with Royal Mail and the Tory government.
Ward has made it clear that the central aim of EiE is to quell rising anger and channel it into Labour. He portrayed Sir “Keir” Starmer as a potential saviour, a leader who spoke out against strikes, banned shadow ministers from picketing, and ruthlessly purged leftist party members. Ward entertained the illusion that Labor could be pushed to the left, saying, “We’re going to make sure we push Labor in the right direction to defend working people.”
The Labor Party was on board with bringing the rail and energy companies back into public ownership, Ward said. He bragged about bringing a motion to the Labor Party conference ‘to make it clear to Keir that we are also bringing Royal Mail back into the public fold’. It is a chimera.
Ward’s speech was a statement that working people must pin their hopes on the election of a Labor government: “Keir, if you do the wrong thing, we will expose you and we will continue to do so; if you make the right choice, if you are on the side of the workers, we will be on your side and you will win the next elections”.
Jeremy Corbyn was honored as the rally’s first speaker. It has been two years since Starmer ousted Corbyn from the parliamentary party. It was the result of Corbyn’s own cowardice refusing to challenge the dominance of the Labor right, despite being given a mandate by hundreds of thousands of Labor members in 2015-16. Corbyn’s rout in the 2019 general election, and his handover of leadership to Starmer, was the result of his capitulation to the Blairites.
Corbyn played his designated role at Saturday’s rally, refusing to criticize Starmer. He didn’t even mention the Labor Party, avoiding any reference to his conference held a week earlier, the most right-wing in history, which opened with Starmer leading the chant of “God save the King” ( God Save the King).
Corbyn’s speech was an ode to union bureaucracy, telling protesters: “What are we? We are the unions”. He called on ‘all young people’ to join a union, saying, ‘we are united in our total determination to win all these conflicts and get rid of the conservative government and free market ideology’. It is an ideology shared by Labour, no less than by the Conservatives.
He concluded with a vague call for “the ideology of unity to realize together a decent future for all our communities”. But he made it clear that the focus should be on electing a Labor government led by Starmer. He tweeted after the event: “As wages fall and profits soar, our message is clear. We are not here to manage. We are not here to negotiate. We are here to win”.
No one is less qualified than Jeremy Corbyn to “win” anything.
National Education Union leader Kevin Courtney, which is suppressing a strike by its 500,000 members fighting a public sector wage freeze, said the “mood is changing”, adding: “Mick Lynch is a god , Dave Ward is a god”.
Mick Lynch, general secretary of the RMT and figurehead of ‘Enough is Enough’, closed the rally. His call for “unity” was a call for pseudo-left British middle class groups to join as one with the labor and union bureaucracy. “We are part of a progressive movement. Whatever we’ve had in the past, our disagreements, whether based on ideology or where we come from, we have to put that aside.”
He continued: “We have to say to any politician, any of them, whether they are Conservative, Liberal, Labor or whether they are a national politician in the nations, we will not let you go. We will not accept cuts. We will not accept austerity no matter who implements it, be it in Westminster, in Edinburgh, in Cardiff, in any city, and in any parish council for that matter.”
Lynch avoided any criticism of Starmer or the right-wing character of the Labor Party conference. He, Ward and their fellow bureaucrats share Starmer’s call for nationalism, patriotism and corporatism. Within hours of the Queen’s death, the RMT and CWU called off strike action “out of respect” for the 10-day period of “national mourning”. They particularly agree with Starmer’s statement that he is “not just pro-business, I want to partner with business, invite them to take forward our modern industrial strategy: a true partnership between government, companies and trade unions.
In a television interview on Friday, Lynch said, “People need to take to the streets and demand a change from this government, and if necessary, a complete change of government.” While Starmer portrays Labor as a responsible government, an advocate of fiscal discipline amid the crashing pound and a financial meltdown sparked by the Tory government’s mini-budget, Lynch and company are the ‘left’ flank of an operation that aims to promote Labor and protect British capitalism from an insurgent working class.
The rally confirmed the Socialist Equality Party’s assessment that Enough is Enough is “a political fraud in the service of Labor and the TUC”. As we have explained, its central message is that “the working class can protest and complain, but it must not engage in political struggle against the bourgeoisie and its parties”.
The statement concluded: “The working class is entering a decisive struggle against the British bourgeoisie. This requires the development of an industrial and political offensive, not only against the Conservative government, but also against the Labor and Union bureaucracy which imposes order on the working class in the name of big business, the financial oligarchy and the ‘State”.
(Article published in English on October 3, 2022)