The shock of the devastating Covid 19 crisis, and a new phase of economic turbulence has unleashed a wave of dislocation, uncertainty, and desperation across the globe. The impact is compounded by the grind of the previous 10 years of austerity that had brought many individuals and communities to the edge of impoverishment. In such circumstances where people see that we can no longer go on as before, significant struggles in society are inevitable.
Across every continent we already see the early stages of a fight back against austerity, job losses and attacks on workers’ rights, oppression, repression, racism, and environmental destruction. But alongside these positive developments a crisis of this scale and depth also inevitably means that the desperation of sections of society are reflected as well. The political detritus and poison of populism that already exists in various guises such as religious fundamentalism, national interest, racism, xenophobia, war mongering and of course locally sectarianism are now likely to re-emerge strengthened and renewed. These reactionary ideas are no longer just the bailiwick of wings of the mainstream right-wing political parties, isolated cranks, and fascist groups on the fringes of society they are also increasingly reflected in so called mainstream media and public discussion.
For trade unions this poses serious challenges. Naturally, they are not immune from either positive or negative developments. On the one hand the trade unions can grow and become increasingly militant and determined to fight for a better society. On the other hand they are also susceptible to pressure from the ideology of populism. Populism in the unions is likely to initially appear in the form of a Trojan Horse wrapped in the national flag demanding defend ‘our’ jobs and our industry against the interests of workers in other places. If left unchallenged defending ‘our’ jobs can become the worker in another country city or parish is my enemy and my boss is my friend. These ideas, if unchecked, will inevitably create division, setting worker against worker and weakening the fighting capacity of the union movement to the point where even defence of the most basic achievements of the working class on pay and terms and conditions is made more difficult.
The signs of populism are already evident in the unions today, we must take this issue on now. Workers unity must become the watch word for every trade union militant. This does not mean that the trade unions do not deal with hard and potentially divisive issues, but it does mean dealing with them on our own terms. We have nothing in common with the bosses or the ruling class, their political mouth pieces or the myriad groups advocating national interest, racist, or sectarian solutions to the problems facing workers. Our solutions are based on the interests of the working class and as such can never align with theirs.
We take our stand on the ground of the struggle for workers unity. Our aim is to build powerful trade unions and new political parties of the working class that can play their role in advancing the struggle to change society for the better.