THE BLOG
03/11/2013 18:32 GMT | Updated 23/01/2014 18:58 GMT

Unite's Leverage Squads Are Both Legal and Necessary

Isn't it a sign of the times that when hundreds of men and their families are threatened with losing the jobs they depend on unless they accept a cut in pay, pension entitlement, and conditions - this on the whim of a rich sociopath who spends his spare time on a £130million yacht in the South of France - that it's the workers fighting back who are maligned, while the super rich employer who pays hardly any tax in this country and his board of very rich directors are the ones painted as victims?

The furore that's been whipped up over the issue of the deployment of 'leverage squads' by Unite, wherein protests are staged at the homes of company directors and employers during industrial disputes involving the union and its members, reflects the prevalence of anti trade union sentiment in British society, the culmination of Thatcher's revolution.

Yet the history of the British trade union movement is an eminently honourable one of struggle against rich and greedy employers, such as Jim Ratcliffe of Ineos, individuals who cared and care not a jot for the welfare of the human beings without whom they wouldn't be rich in the first place. It is a courageous and honourable legacy of men and women standing up against injustice, exploitation, and immiseration. Without this movement the working class in this country would still exist at the mercy of these despicable human beings, reduced to begging for scraps from the table of their 'betters'. Sadly, we are currently living through a period when workers are seeing their living standards and lives attacked more viciously than in decades, confirming the comparative weakness of the unions compared to previous decades.

By dint of his threat to close the plant, Ratcliffe not only succeeded in forcing the workers at the Ineos petrochemical plant in Grangemouth to accept cuts to their conditions, pay, and pensions, he also succeeded in more or less extorting over £130million from the government as part of the deal to keep the plant open. Clearly, for people like him, workers are nothing more than easily dispensable flotsam, mere specks of dust in the scheme of things.

Unite the union, with over three million members, remains a repository of pride in working class solidarity and the collective ethos that has come under sustained assault for the past few decades as the free market has ridden roughshod over anything and everything that dare stand in its path. Currently led by Len McCluskey, Unite has won many industrial disputes on behalf of its members across many sectors, which, in conjunction with its status as the single largest donor to the Labour Party, is what is really driving the demonisation it is presently being subjected to in the pages of the right wing press, as well as by the Tories and the Blairitie wing within Labour.

This can only mean it is doing something right.

The use of leverage squads by Unite is within the law. It is an innovative tactic in the context of a country which holds the onerous distinction of currently having some of the most regressive anti union laws of any industrialised economy on its statute books.

What do people expect workers such as the men threatened with the loss of their jobs at Grangemouth recently to do? Do they expect them to go to their doom quietly and without a fight? Do they expect them to just roll over in the face of threats? The real intimidatory tactics here were those employed by Ratcliffe and his directors.

The US labour leader and socialist Eugene Debs once said: "I am opposing a social order in which it is possible for one man who does absolutely nothing that is useful to amass a fortune of hundreds of millions of dollars, while millions of men and women who work all the days of their lives secure barely enough for a wretched existence."

Spoken in 1918, they are words that apply today, which surely qualifies as an indictment of the current state of British society. As long as they do apply a trade union movement lacking the fortitude and courage to utilise every tactic available to it under the law to fight for the rights of its members is a luxury no civilised society can afford.

The real scandal surrounding the recent industrial dispute at Grangemouth isn't over the tactics employed by Unite to resist the actions of a billionaire owner, it's the fact that strategic assets such as the Grangemouth refinery and petrochemicals plant are owned by individual billionaires in the first place. More than ever we have seen how political sovereignty without economic sovereignty is no sovereignty at all.

Only when we have a government with the political will to take these industries into public ownership will we know we have a government worthy of the name.