WITH those new year resolutions already on a shoogly peg, the beginning of 2023 is looking a lot like the year we just left behind.

The NHS crisis has only worsened; Meghan Markle remains the obsession of a right-wing press that really wants you to know how unbothered it is about her husband’s new book; and Westminster’s dual wars against the Scottish Parliament and trade unions continue apace.

There is one significant change from last year however. Amid the most significant cost of living crisis in decades, the bosses of the UK’s largest companies managed to accrue the average UK worker’s salary for themselves a whole seven hours faster than they did the year before.

By 2pm on Thursday, the fat cats of the FTSE 100 were already rolling in the same amount of hard cash that it’d take most others a solid year of their lives to scrape together, never mind the significant number of folk living well below the average wage and stuck on exploitative work contracts. And let’s be honest. Nobody is working that hard while recovering from their new year celebrations.

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In contrast to the seeming abundance of wealth flowing upwards however, the UK continues to face rolling industrial action from workers whose wages have stagnated and conditions have worsened for years. You can take a wild swing at which of these two groups are facing the most scrutiny in the British press today.

Funnily enough, our predominantly right-wing, billionaire-owned broadsheets and tabloids are spinning reports on industrial action with the kind of fervour you would expect if someone had just rushed into the newsroom to announce that Thatcher’s ghost was on her way in to see how things are going.

It hasn’t changed that much since the days of The Sun trying to publish a photo of miners’ leader Arthur Scargill that would allow a wave to be intentionally misinterpreted as a Nazi salute.

The National:

In its modern guise, we have instead Piers Morgan quizzing the RMT’s Mike Lynch about his doppelganger Facebook profile picture of Thunderbird’s villainous The Hood; all with a smug glint in the eye that suggests he really believed he was on to something with that one, rather than making an absolute fool of himself.

The point is that trade unions are necessary to ensure fair pay and conditions for workers and service users alike across Scotland and the rest of the UK – and for that reason, they are attacked and undermined by forces that seek to extract wealth out of the pockets and communities of the working class for their own ends. You don’t need to look far to see examples of how wealth has been drawn from the services and facilities we use to leave them a shadow of what once was.

Government impact assessments on the proposed legislation noted that staff refusing to work overtime alone would be enough to cripple industries, revealing further how good faith from workers has kept our nations running even as their workplaces were asset stripped around them. And now they are to be thrown to the wolves.

Trade unions are, in many ways, some of the best structures for revealing the hypocrisy at the heart of libertarian and capitalist ideologies, that centre mythologised individualism above pragmatic collectivism; like the proud “self-made man” who can’t see that without state schools to educate us, socialised medicine to heal us, and public roads and infrastructure to move us, he would have no reliable workforce and no customers at all.

The National: Rishi Sunak first speech of 2023

When Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said that the state can’t “fix everyone’s problems”, I doubt people coming together to collectively bargain for better wages off their own backs was what he had in mind. Rather than cheering on the plucky initiative of those trade union go-getters, instead the Prime Minister has resorted to threats of anti-trade union legislation that would render the ability to strike meaningless for institutions across the UK.

Here’s the tea: strike action gets results – and once everyone remembers that, suddenly it gets a lot harder to keep cutting jobs and wages while handing ever-growing dividends to feckless shareholders. And for that reason strike action needs to be averted, not through any means that be considered a win for workers, but through obfuscation and force.

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And while Labour’s Keir Starmer has stated that, if elected to power, he would roll back any anti-trade union legislation passed by the Conservatives, his track record on unions is so poor as to make me doubt how true that really is.

It wasn’t so long ago that he declared that party frontbenchers were banned from appearing on picket lines, and discouraged from showing support for striking workers.

Shadow frontbencher Sam Tarry (below) was sacked from the shadow cabinet for showing his face on a picket line of striking rail workers. For as long as Starmer mimics Tory talking points on NHS privatisation over vocally, full-throatedly, backing striking nurses, I’ll be treating all his supportive comments with a healthy dose of scepticism.

The National: Ilford South MP Sam Tarry advocated for an extension to the furlough scheme in a House of Common's debate yesterday (September 9). Picture: Sam Tarry

The Westminster establishment does not want effective trade unions. While some of the worst elements of the original bill – courtesy of everyone’s favourite Victorian ghost Jacob Rees-Mogg – have been removed for legal reasons, the proposals to allow workplaces to sue unions for striking and to fire staff for refusing to work would effectively outlaw trade unions.

After all, what purpose could strikes truly be said to have if service continues as normal, while the state arrests any protesters who get a bit too “disruptive”? Silence does not come before change.

With the press and government gunning for organisers and workers alike, and Labour’s support being shaky at best, trade unions need all our support in 2023. So let’s make that a new year resolution to keep. They’re going to need it.