Last Friday, Unite union members were correctly dismayed at their General Secretary’s apparently glowing endorsement of the money that the government were finally forced to offer (some) workers. Len McCluskey referred to the funding package as “historic, bold and very much necessary” noting that “We recognise that these are huge decisions for any government, and especially for a Conservative government, but they have listened to the calls for action and have acted appropriately.” This is why Socialist Alternative member Danny Hoggan, who is the branch secretary of Greenwich Unite 2050, recently wrote an article to highlight his disappointment with McCluskey’s comments.
But even last Friday it was clear there was open dissension within Unite’s ranks, as Jackie Pollock, their Regional Secretary in Northern Ireland, responded to the government’s offer to workers using similar language to McCluskey but by emphasising the role of workers struggle. Pollock said: “The measures announced today are huge – especially for a Conservative government – but reflect the strength of the demand of workers and the trade union movement for urgent and bold action.” Pollock then went further than McCluskey, continuing:
“It is now vital that clarity is provided that the wage supports announced will be extended to those who are self-employed and also that a living income is provided to zero-hours workers, based on a simple assessment procedure.”
That is why many Unite members will have welcomed the more militant statement made by McCluskey on Sunday in which he called on the government to extend its wage support scheme to protect the million plus workers trapped in bogus self-employment in the building industry.
But as ever it is the militant actions of organised workers that ultimately can act to make the government see reason. So, while Unite are (as of Monday night) are correctly demanding that all construction sites must be closed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, it is clear that capitalist bosses and their Tory friends will only listen to workers when they take matters into their own hands. This happened earlier today when:
“Approximately 80 employees at ABP Meats in Lurgan who are deemed ‘essential’ refused work today over fears for their safety. Unite has been informed that the workers are demanding adequate social distancing of two metres be facilitated and enforced and other measures be adopted to keep workers as separated as possible and deep-cleans are conducted on work stations where workers have self-isolated with Coronavirus symptoms.”
While in another inspiring action that took place today:
“Up to one thousand workers have walked out of the Seagoe Moy Park site in Portadown. This follows the failure of the biggest employer in Northern Ireland to provide basic health and safety protections to its workforce.”
There can be no more pleading with the government to protect workers rights. The Tories have only ever attacked us, so now is the time to take pride in our own power. Trade Unions like Unite must take a firm stance and organise mass walk-outs across the entire country to force the government to close down all non-essential production and to ensure that bosses take the necessary precautions to prevent the spread of the pandemic by listening to workers demands for creating safe working environments.