Editorial from the March 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard
Thirty years ago this month began the Miners’ Strike which ended in defeat. But the class struggle continues. On both sides. The recent strike by workers on London Underground led to calls by capitalist politicians for fresh attacks on the organised working class movement. They want new restrictions on strike action, proposals for a minimum service to be provided by London Underground workers like the current legislation around the fire service, new thresholds to make sure a majority of union members vote for strikes rather than just a majority of those who cast their ballots.
A Tory source said 'It's right that we look at issues like ballot thresholds and minimum service agreements in order to protect passengers on vital public transport networks.' Boris Johnson told BBC Radio 4's Today programme he supported new voting thresholds on industrial action ballots: 'I think minimum thresholds would be reasonable for vital public transport functions such as the London Underground which has to keep the greatest city on earth moving, on which millions of people depend on for their livelihoods, and people say: 'Oh, well, you only got elected on 40 percent and so on', well I quite understand that point. I just think that there's a difference between a local election or a political election and the operation of a vital public service.'
The Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers Union (RMT) and the Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) had walked out for 48 hours from 9.30 GMT on 4 February in a row over 953 job losses stemming from the closure of ticket offices. The RMT ballot had a 76 percent yes vote on a 40 percent turnout while the TSSA ballot had a 59 percent yes vote on a 52 percent turnout.
Turnout statistics are very illuminating and demonstrate that 'our political leaders' shouldn't have any political power going by the yardstick they want to introduce. The 2012 London Mayoral election turnout was 38 percent of which Johnson got 44 percent of votes in the first round which is 17 percent of all London's electorate. Since 1979 the Euro-elections have had an average 33 percent turnout with an all-time low in 1999 of 24 percent. A real all-time low is the 2012 turnout of 15 percent for Police and Crime Commissioners while a parliamentary by-election in Manchester South in 2012 had an 18 percent turnout. All these capitalist elections are null and void if we apply some turnout threshold on trade union ballots or are the organised working class a special case and in need of legislative sanctions?
Trade Unions are essentially defensive organisations of the working class to protect wages and working conditions, and the strike weapon is a necessary tool to prevent the working class being driven into the ground by the capitalist class’s never-satisfied demands for profit, what Marx called 'the never-ceasing encroachments of capital'. As socialists we stand with our fellow working class in their necessary battles to defend themselves, but point out at all times that the real victory to be achieved is the abolition of the wages system.