Raising our sights

Minimum wage: the fight for what we need

Next week will mark the annual TUC conference at Blackpool. It has to be said that the TUC’s conferences are more a source of dread than joy these days. Every year has seen the conference become duller and duller, and more and more stage-managed. Debate is almost non-existent, as bureaucrat after bureaucrat toes the ‘new realist’ line. You can guarantee that Blairism will run rampant this year, with the last vestiges of ‘socialism’ vanquished and replaced by ‘social-ism’.

Whether we like it or not, this is going to be the reality next week. Tony Blair and the incoming Labour government are acting to stifle any trade union militancy even before they come to power, let alone afterwards. Michael Heseltine may bluster about Blair being at the “mercy of the left” and how Labour is “anti-profit, anti-capital, anti-enterprise”. But this is just politics-as-normal mixed with a slight degree of despair, as Heseltine and his cohorts face electoral defeat. We all know that Blair and his allies in the trade union bureaucracy simply want to use the working class as pawns on their road to power.

Thus when Blair describes himself as a “social democrat” he is openly declaring his anti-working class credentials to the bosses - ‘Trust me; I’m one of you.’ This should be a warning to any genuine trade unionist or trade union leader. John Monks though, as we all know, does not fall under this heading.

Instead, Monks plans to address fringe meetings at all the three main party conferences, before softening up the bosses at the CBI conference at Harrogate in November. His ‘mission’ is to place the issue of “job security” at the top of the political agenda, by urging the employers to be nicer to their workers.

It should be the task of revolutionaries and working class militants to expose the mealy-mouthed and treacherous nature of the TUC tops. We do this by fighting for what the working class needs, irrespective of what the capitalist system - or John Monks - says it can afford. We do this by making the working class the dominant voice in society.

Unfortunately, some revolutionary organisations are failing in their duty. The Socialist Workers Party is a prime case. Next Monday the SWP will be lobbying the TUC, urging those inside to support a Unison resolution which calls for a pathetically low £4.26 per hour minimum wage. Frankly, this is a disgrace and demonstrates the low horizons of the SWP, which peddles its own brand of ‘new realist’ thinking. It also makes a mockery of their central slogan, “Make the bosses pay!”. Yes, but not very much, if the SWP got their way - and even less if John Monks has anything to do with it. He is working frantically behind the scenes to convince his fellow bureaucrats that they should be aiming for £4.00 per hour. Monks believes this is a compromise which, in the words of The Guardian, “will satisfy the left without embarassing Labour” (September 3). Time will tell whether it will also “satisfy” the SWP and Militant Labour.

Even the capitalist bureaucrats in Brussels have decreed that such a figure is below the ‘decency’ threshold, which they set at £6.00 per hour. Yet here we have a revolutionary, anti-capitalist organisation campaigning for an ‘indecent’ minimum wage, which would still leave workers in poverty.

Communists have an altogether different response. Unlike the SWP, which lives in mortal fear of upsetting the trade union bureaucracy too much and being cast into the ‘wilderness’, we fight explicitly for what workers need and require under this society. This is not something to be haggled over, or bargained with. This is our absolute minimum and we fight for it now, not in the remote future (or by waiting for a Labour government). We aim high.

Come next week we will demand a minimum wage of £275 per week - no less. If the trade union bureaucrats think such a demand is ‘crazy’ or ‘unrealistic’, so be it. We do not fear being ‘isolated’ from such people. The class struggle can only be won by workers going onto the offensive, even if the cowards do keep flinching.

Eddie Ford