Adam Ford on the PCS' aborted strike action, and the unions' Olympic failures.
As women footballers were getting ready to unofficially kick off the London Olympics, the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union general secretary was preparing to bow to ruling class pressure, and call off a strike of workers in the Border Agency, Criminal Records Bureau, and the Identity and Passport Service. In doing so, darling of the fake left Mark Serwotka was setting the seal on years of collaboration between union officialdom and the London Olympics authorities.
The aborted strike was originally called as part of a dispute over 8,500 Home Office jobs the PCS say are at risk as a result of government cuts. Had the walkout gone ahead, it would have caused some disruption to last minute Olympics preparations, particularly with spectators, athletes and others in their entourages still arriving in the country.
Serwotka faced a storm of pressure from the right wing abuse over the strike, with the usual papers seizing on the opportunity to bash the supposed “arrogance” of workers choosing to withdraw their labour at a time when it might have most impact. As could be anticipated, the media ‘debate’ weighed heavily on the ‘national pride’ side of the Olympics, and against working class consciousness.
The PCS bureaucracy made their statement just minutes before the union was to be hauled before the High Court by the government, over what they had claimed were “procedural errors” in the strike ballot – the now standard ruling class mantra. In his remarks, Serwotka declared there had been “major progress” in talks with the government, which had decided to create eight hundred jobs in the Border Agency, alongside three hundred in the Passport Service.
Now in the context of 8,500 lost jobs, 1,100 would not have been much of an improvement. But it would be the first time the Coalition government had so much as blinked in imposing its austerity agenda, and would therefore be something of a watershed. However, within minutes of Serwotka’s speech, immigration minister Damian Green was telling BBC News he “did not recognise that figure at all.” He went on: “They knew the strike was irresponsible and likely to be destructive… I’m glad to say the government has not made any concessions at all. I’m glad the union has taken this decision.”
It should really go without saying that in a negotiation, if one party publicly denies they have made any concessions, they cannot exactly be said to be ‘in the bag’. So doubtless there will be many disgruntled would-be strikers tonight, who must now go to work while ‘negotiations’ go on behind doors closed.
But the Socialist Workers Party were quick to declare victory, and uncritically quote the bureaucrat who spoke at the closing rally of their recent ‘Marxism’ conference. They took Serwotka’s jobs boast as good coin, crowing that: “…in the end they came up with a new offer. The union said that 800 new jobs will be created in the Border Agency and 300 in passport offices, describing it as enough progress to suspend the action.”
The article was updated at 2.25pm, long after Green’s denial. But this was not mentioned in the update. All that could be managed is the weak “A number of issues in the dispute remain unresolved.” As for the other 7,400 jobs, they didn’t even merit a mention.
While this particular dispute wasn’t over work at the Olympics itself, the timing of the strike date very much linked it in to the spectacle. And the Serwotka sell-out is emblematic of the way the trade union tops have engaged with the Olympics project from the start.
Even five years ago, the Trades Union Congress were telling the Olympic Delivery Authority that “The TUC and affiliated unions wish to put on record our shared commitment” to the “core objectives” of the ODA. The bureaucracy put forward the business/nationalist line that the Olympics provided an “opportunity” to “showcase” Britain. For the sake of the “smooth running of the games” it was therefore crucial that they should be “consulted at all stages of the planning and operation.” In other words, the trade union tops were offering their services to police the working class.
As part of this consultation, the TUC received advance notice that there would be seventy thousand “volunteers” – or in plain speaking, unpaid workers – staffing the games. No protest was raised, though it was initially suggested that a “Volunteers’ Protocol” should ensure that appropriate training and meals were given. After no fight whatsoever, this idea fell by the wayside.
Perhaps the most damning indictment of the TUC’s role comes from the praise of slimy Organising Committee chair and former Tory MP Lord Sebastian Coe, who – at the signing of a “Games-Time Grievance Resolution Protocol” with the bureaucracy – trumpeted the fact that “We have always enjoyed great support from the trade union movement since the very beginning of the bid, and today’s signing of the protocol with the TUC and ACAS is a natural next step.”
At a time of huge unemployment, one of the most expensive sporting events of all time will be serviced by an army of unpaid workers, and any disputes will be quickly sewn up by the union tops at the ‘conciliation service’ ACAS. What a graphic illustration of the filthy role by those suits who claim to fight for workers’ rights, and the even filthier one played by those who cheer them on, while pretending to be revolutionaries.