Sections of the capitalist media and the Tory party leadership have gone into overdrive in their denunciation of the trade union Unite and its former convener at Grangemouth oil refinery, Stephen Deans. Stephen Deans has been subject to scandalous attacks from the trade union hating press and the Tory and Labour leadership, which Socialist Party Scotland totally condemns.
This has followed on from the events at Grangemouth where Unite suffered a setback and major attacks on workers’ terms and conditions and trade union rights at the plant. This has emboldened the vile anti-union press barons and the pro- big business political establishment.
While we have genuine constructive criticisms about the way Unite conducted the dispute, we give our full support to Stevie Deans and the union, both in the plant and outside, against this attack on the right of Unite to organise effectively both industrially and politically. The rest of the labour and trade union movement should also come to their aid.
Deans resigned from his job as the Unite convener at Grangemouth before he was sacked by the employer, Ineos, which has been conducting a campaign of victimisation against Deans for months.
He is also standing down as the chair of the Falkirk Labour Party. A brutal assault against Stevie has taken place in the pages of the Sunday Times, the Daily Mail and other national papers. Prime Minister Cameron even went as far as attacking Stevie Deans in the House of Commons, describing him as a "rouge trade unionist" who almost brought the plant to its knees. Cameron went on to demand that Ed Miliband launch an inquiry into Unite’s activities, including in the Falkirk constituency. Unite have also been targeted by Cameron for their ‘leverage campaigning’, which involved protests outside the homes of Ineos bosses. These were "sinister" and "bullying" tactics, according to the Tories.
The irony of a company that conducted out-and-out blackmail against its workforce being portrayed as victims of "bullying" by Unite is laughable. And this from a government that is waging war on the poor and the working class by slashing benefits and wages and assaulting living standards.
But it is not only the Tories and their lapdogs in the media who have been on the warpath. Labour MP and former Home Secretary, Jack Straw, called Unite’s role "disgraceful" and has added his voice to a new inquiry into Unite and Falkirk.
Even the so-called "liberal" commentators have turned their bile on the trade union movement. Iain MacWhirter, writing in the Sunday Herald in the aftermath of the events at Grangemouth, commented: “Unite seemed prepared to allow one of Scotland’s most important industrial centres…to be sacrificed to their own obstinacy and self-interest”.
Driving these attacks is not only the class hatred of an out of touch capitalist elite at the idea that a trade union should defend its members against cuts, but also that there exists an explosive social situation in British society that could erupt at any time. It is the same fear that saw the Mail launch a mad-dog attack on Labour leader Ed Miliband’s father, Ralph, describing him as a "man who hated Britain."
This followed Miliband’s speech at the Labour conference where he promised to freeze energy prices for 18 months. Even this paltry pledge, falling way short of the need to nationalise the big six energy firms, as put forward by the Socialist Party, was seized on as a lurch by the Labour leader to the left. In truth, it is nothing of the sort. Ralph Miliband was a Marxist, but his son is no Marxist, as Ed himself made clear: "I want to make capitalism work for working people, not destroy it."
Nevertheless, Miliband’s attack on the energy companies was hugely popular. His poll ratings have risen as a result, reflecting the massive public support for action on energy bills and the plummeting standard of living for the majority in general.
This reflects the huge potential for the building of a new mass working class party, with a programme for public ownership and wealth redistribution.
Unfortunately, as Unite have found out in Falkirk, any attempt to change the Labour Party back to the left and for the interests of trade union members will not be tolerated by the Labour leadership.
Labour has been transformed from a party that while always having a pro-capitalist leadership, was a workers’ party at its base. Today, it is now completely committed to the interests of capitalism. Its democratic structures have been obliterated and, as Unite have found, there are no avenues open for the working class to change it.
It was Ed Miliband who ensured that a dossier on Unite’s role in Falkirk was handed to the police. The bosses at Ineos used this to launch their witch-hunt against Stevie Deans, in order to weaken the union at Grangemouth.
Len McCluskey, the General Secretary of Unite, has quite correctly gone on the offensive, defending the right of Unite to conduct its leverage campaign and also to engage on the political plane and to try and alter the direction of the Labour Party.
We agree that Unite and the rest of the trade union movement should be at the forefront of politics. However, it is clear from the attacks on Unite from the Labour leadership that this requires the creation of a new political party for trade union and working class interests, in general.
There is currently no mass party that stands for public ownership of energy, transport and the privatised industries. No party in parliament that fights for the repeal of the brutal anti-trade union laws. No party that calls for a massive redistribution of wealth from the capitalist elite to the millions living in poverty and insecurity. In other words, no mass party that stands for the interests of the majority of society.
The Socialist Party has long campaigned for the unions to end their formal link with the Labour party. We call for an emergency conference of trade unions, both Labour affiliated unions and those of the rail workers (RMT), the fire-fighters (FBU) and the civil servants (PCS) who are not affiliated to Labour, to discuss the setting up of a new workers’ party.
This would be the best answer to the attacks on the trade unions from the Tories, the capitalist press and the Labour leaders. It is time to act and act now. There is no time to waste.