The fuel shortages, queues at petrol stations and huge surrounding traffic jams which have choked up many cities and towns are an indictment of many aspects of our social arrangements:
• Low-wages and terrible conditions for HGV drivers.
• The ending of free movement between Britain and the European Union with Brexit, and the wider drive against migrants.
• The whole framework of vital industries, including transport and energy, being run for private profit.
The Socialist of 29 September carries an interview with a Socialist Party member who until recently worked as a driver. He vividly describes the dire working conditions in much of the industry, the stress and insecurity the companies’ ruthless profit-making imposes on workers, and the absurd weakness of regulations.
He also highlights the weakness of trade unions.
The main union in the industry is Unite. This is surely a test for the leadership of new Unite general secretary Sharon Graham, with its stated commitment to focus and push on workers’ pay, terms and conditions.
Socialist and trade union activists should be on the look out to find ways to help rank-and-file drivers organise.
The Socialist Party being pro-Brexit, its coverage largely avoids discussion of Brexit and freedom of movement. Socialists must support freedom of movement — not because want to provide more labour for bosses to exploit, but because we support workers’ rights to move freely. Anything else means further weakening the ability to organise, by making workers more vulnerable to the combined power of employers and the immigration system.
Our response to the temporary suspension of certain restrictions is to demand that free movement with the EU is restored, and expanded to other parts of the world. Workers should be able to move freely.
The fuel crisis is a reminder of the absurd irrationality of Brexit. Yet stuck in a long-running pattern of not criticising Brexit, the bulk of the labour movement is currently unwilling to point this out.
The internationalist left needs to start thinking and talking about how to begin the job of addressing Brexit again. We should not accept the Tories’ disastrous pseudo-settlement as the final resting place of the UK’s relationship with the EU.
Last but not least, this crisis makes the case for putting public welfare above private profit. Like the energy industry itself, road haulage should be taken into public ownership — it was, for a few years, under the post-war Labour government — and reorganised as a public service providing well-paid, secure jobs. The UK economy’s convulsions make the case against the whole capitalist system of private ownership for profit.
Yet the Labour Party under Keir Starmer will not advocate even limited measures to put workers’ rights and public good before profit. The labour movement must step up.