Strike map is a project by Red for Workers. We’re a group of trade unionists and we held a solidarity action last year where we called on members of the public to wear red for key workers on May Day 2020. When we launched Strike Map, just less than a month ago, we saw it as simply a place for us to record the industrial action taking place in the UK. We hoped that by doing so we might raise the awareness of the plight of striking workers, encourage others to take a similar path if needed and provide a way of sending solidarity to comrades on the picket line. The project has bloomed into more than we ever dreamed. In this short space of time we have mapped over 20 strikes and have attracted over 3,000 followers on Twitter and Facebook. We’ve received words of support from right across the labour movement, from general secretaries and Members of Parliament to grassroots activists on the ground.
The success of the project so far has given us the encouragement to expand our offer too. Our next project is one we’re really excited about – Comrades, a live streamed show where we talk to trade unionists from across the movement. We’ve now also included “Strike Stories” to our website. A page dedicated to telling the stories of those who are standing up for their rights and those of their colleagues on the picket line. Sometimes the stories we are sent are shocking – security staff being forced to steal PPE after being refused it; or heartbreaking – people explaining how they love their jobs but have been driven to the point of despair.
The project has bloomed into more than we ever dreamed.
What all the stories have in common, though, is that no one wants to go on strike. Strikes are inevitable; that’s the nature of the capitalist system. Workers and bosses will always be in conflict. The bosses are only interested in maximising profit, but for workers it’s wages, the length of the working day and their own safety that are the most important things. This inevitably leads to conflict and the system is unequally weighted in favour of the bosses. Workers want higher wages? Then move the factory to somewhere cheaper. Staff worried about health and safety? Then find somewhere with less regulation.
What can workers do in the face of this unequal weighting in the workplace? They can do the only thing available to them – withhold their labour. Even this right is not, it would seem, inviolable. For the past 40 years, the government has made it harder and harder to strike legally. The weight of the security and intelligence services have been brought to bear against the working class. The media has vilified workers and their gains have been stolen by politicians. If strikes didn’t work then they wouldn’t be attacked so much. The biggest danger to the ruling classes is that strikes will raise class consciousness. As Lenin said: “Every strike reminds the workers that their position is not hopeless, that they are not alone.”
We must remind the working class of the power they hold.
We must be honest, the labour movement is not at its strongest position historically. Union membership has been on the decline for decades and the number of days of strike action has been at all time low levels for a long time now. This needs to change. Often people won’t strike because, let’s be honest, it’s a scary thing to do. You worry how you will cope without the pay. You worry about how it will affect your future job prospects. But strikes do happen and more than you’d realise. As previously noted, we have already mapped over 20 strikes and that’s in less than a month! We haven’t even included other forms of industrial action, such as work to rule and or non-worker related strikes such as rent strikes. We hope that by highlighting these struggles we will reassure workers that they are not alone.
2020 was a tough year for workers and 2021 will be no better. In fact, it will probably be worse, as the workers of this country are forced to pay for this crisis – a crisis which was looming even before Covid-19. We must remind the working class of the power they hold. As Mario Tronti said in Workers and Capital: “Under these conditions, no other form of workers’ initiative can substitute for the traditional, fundamental form of struggle: the factory strike, the mass strike.” We have an opportunity now. We must turn back to the old tools at our disposal but use new technology to make these tools more effective than ever.