The enthusiastic demonstration and rally in defence of public services on 24 April was Jersey’s first since the 1920s. But critical questions face the movement behind the protest.
The march, called by the teaching union NASUWT, was against £50 million in cuts on the island. It came at a time when teachers, nurses and uniformed services are all at various stages of organising industrial action over an imposed pay freeze.
Unite announced in the rally that it will now seek to become more political and will back candidates for election to the island’s Senate. But what form will this take? Funding for an existing politician or favoured aspiring candidate would seem likely. This is a threat to the independence of the newly formed council of unions, and its need to grow to become a political force as well as an industrial force.
At present the union council is made up public sector union representatives heavily dominated by Unite and its affiliate Jersey associations. There is pressure to subsume the new council into the moribund Trades Council rather than let the new council continue to grow in the form it has, based upon solidarity in struggle and a focus on fighting the island’s government.
The council needs to retain its independence and to bring in more union activists. It needs to link up with all those who campaign for democratic reform on this island, which has feudalistic political structures intertwined with its capitalist system.
It should stand its own working-clas candidates for elections who can work for democratic demands, using the impetus of the industrial struggles.
Jersey actually has a rich past history of working0-class struggle that is surprising for such a small island. But its labour movement has never yet realised the importance of fusing the industrial and political. In the past the working class has always concentrated on one or the other front and has never pushed and won even parliamentary democracy.
It’s time for the cycle to be broken. The weeks ahead are critical. Union activists from the private sector are becoming attracted to the union council and its aims; those aims need to remain independent and the council should not become dominated by one union alone.
Workers' Liberty in Jersey
Around a dozen Jersey trade unionists, students and leftists attended a meeting organised by Workers’ Liberty on Sunday 25 April, on the subject of “socialism and democracy”. Many had come along after meeting us on the demonstration.
It was probably the first meeting organised by a Marxist group on Jersey for decades, and there was a lot of curiosity about our ideas. But this was more than idle curiosity — the trade unionists and island campaigners who attended were clearly anxious to get a grip on socialist ideas in order to use them as a practical guide for how to structure their campaigns.
With the unions on the offensive over public sector cuts and the development of a workers’ committee, Jersey democracy campaigners have started looking to the labour movement as an ally. Workers’ Liberty will be working to strengthen this alliance, and to keep up regular socialist educational meetings on Jersey.
A left-wing deputy in the Jersey states (senate) told us about the informal, corrupt system of patronage by and for the rich which defines Jersey politics:
“We are fighting against the unfair tax regime; we haven’t got a history of progressive taxation. Now that money from finance is drying up, the rich aren’t pulling their weight and ordinary people on Jersey are being made to pay.
“People need to know that the candidates are going to do what they say and know what the candidates stand for, because at the moment it is too easy for an individual to come in and have no accountability to either the electorate or their colleagues in the chamber.”