By Martin Brady
The current strike wave in Britain goes well beyond the important struggles to preserve or improve pay and conditions for individual groups of workers – important as these always are. This strike wave is objectively political because it confronts the general ruling class offensive project head-on.
Truss’s project is to Americanise Britain
The centre piece of the strategy of the British ruling class is the Americanisation of British economy and society, meaning lower wages, drastic reduction of welfare protection, worse terms, union-busting, deregulation, elimination of environmental protection and the fight against climate change, and privatisation. All this is in order to increase the rate of exploitation and drive up the rate of profit. In addition to the reduction of real wages threatened cuts to benefits are a mechanism to starve people into low-paid work.
Currently, militancy is broadening and deepening, with ballots in general being won by wide margins and more and more sectors being drawn into struggle. Nurses, teachers, lecturers, fire fighters and civil servants are all either balloting or have balloted on strike action. This is in addition to rail workers, telecoms and post workers and others who are already taking strike action. Less publicised and smaller but significant strikes in the private sector have also been taking place against specific employers, and some of them have won.
It is clear why industrial action is concentrated in the more heavily-unionised public sector, because it is also bearing the brunt of the government attacks. With CPI inflation running at 10 per cent, private sector workers are experiencing a very sharp fall in average real incomes of around 4 per cent. But for public sector workers it is double that, at 8 per cent or worse. As the Tory tax cuts show, this imposition has nothing to do with improving public finances or growing the economy. It has everything to do with driving wages lower across the board, and setting a ‘going rate’ which the government hopes can be matched across the whole economy.
As this is the central strategic project agreed by the majority of the British ruling class (with frequently sharp disagreements coming to the fore only on the current government’s tactics) it is clear that this is an enormous fight. It may have to be a prolonged one. This is especially true given the dire state of the British economy, even compared to the rest of the G7.
Therefore, the question is posed, what are the next steps, actions and slogans for the movement as whole?
The goal must be unity to roll back the entire capitalist offensive
The strategy for workers and the oppressed must be to reverse this entire Tory attack and to replace current policy with one that replaces current policies with redistribution in the opposite direction, from rich to poor and from shareholder pay-outs to workers’ pay. This website would also argue that to sustain this, as well as to provide decent public services, pensions and social protection we also need to sustainably grow the economy through investment. But that is a perspective to argue for, rather than a precondition for unity in action.
It is unity in struggle that is needed first and foremost. Hundreds of thousand of workers have already taken strike action in post, telecoms and rail as well as in private sector (and local authority) disputes. Even if only some of the ballots taking place vote for strikes, it will only be a matter of time before the numbers involved stretch over a million.
It is clear that the ruling class, whose policy at present is to make no significant concessions, has the best chance to withstand action by one or two unions, however militant. What is needed is that the unions taking action do so in an increasingly co-ordinated way, maximising their collective leverage. Recently, the actions by the CWU and rail unions overlapped as September turned to October. Much more of that synchronisation is required.
In addition, the TUC ought to be playing a greater role in public campaigning in support of the strikers and in helping co-ordinate strikes. A People’s Assembly demo has been called for November 5 and already has the support of some leading trade unions. There is no reason why the demos like it, and others in the New Year, cannot be supported by the TUC and all other major individual trade unions.
A flat out campaign for Labour to support the strikers
The Labour Party should turn around the strike movement. Labour MPs have widely ignored Starmer’s edict not to go on picket lines, which is now a dead letter. They too can make the arguments for the strikes across all media, call parliamentary lobbies and attend every action in their area. The same is true of councillors and councils controlled by Labour, who can provide both platforms and resources for the strikes. Enough Is Enough has played a strong role in doing just that and its initiatives should be fully supported.
Any argument that this might interrupt Starmer’s smooth progress to Number 10 can be easily dismissed. The surge in Labour’s poll rating has happened during the strike wave, and is mainly a product of the widespread horror at the Tory policies.
While the strategic aim for the movement must be to reverse Truss’s policies, the Tory Party and the ruling class, whatever their tactical differences on individual provocative tax moves such as abolishing the 45% rate, they are united in supporting their overall objective . Heated tactical disagreements among the capitalist class and Tories will all disappear if Truss and Kwarteng can get away with imposing their settlement on workers and the poor.
Therefore, the ultimate aim must be to demand a general election on a wave of overwhelming industrial action. This will inevitably also involve a clash with Starmer given his failure to support the strikes and his minimal opposition to the Tory strategy – reversing the abolition of the 45% tax rate is necessary but not even remotely sufficient to reverse the main planks of the Tory strategy.
The means to achieve such a goal are by maximising the breadth of the strike movement and bringing in the greatest possible community and social support for it. Ultimately, this means a general strike, or something that closely approximates to it.
But the British labour movement has really only experienced industrial peace for a prolonged period. The response which is really required is a general strike but as, doubtless, the TUC will not call this, everything must be done to achieve the greatest possible unity in struggle that can be achieved must be aimed at.
A political strategy is required
This means that a twofold strategy is required. First, there must be greater outreach to private sector workers who are prepared to join the battle, using arguments about general economic conditions (on food and energy prices, mortgage payments, benefit cuts, and public services) to overcome any notion that a slightly better pay settlement will insulate them from the crisis. The basis for this exists as about 99% of the population will be worse off.
The same approach should be adopted with community groups, users groups of public services, concerned carers, pensioners and anyone on benefits. They can all be drawn into the struggle and on the side of striking workers.
It should also be clear that women and Black and Asian people are being disproportionately hit by the ruling class offensive. Pay gaps widening once more, being forced onto part-time work or unpaid overtime, soaring costs of childcare, cuts to Universal Credit and other attacks all deepen discrimination and inequality. Disabled people are coming under attack in similar ways as well as bearing the brunt of the crisis in the NHS. All of these must be allowed to take their rightful place in politically leading the resistance.
Secondly, there must be increased agitation around the need to get as close as possible as general strike, and for the maximum calls to bring down this government. Such unity is also vital to help give a perspective for victory to individual groups of workers – who know they face employers, encouraged by the government, who at present are determined not to make concessions. The major Western governments have created this cost of living crisis. British government policy has deepened it and now their strategy is to use it to effect a lasting transformation of the economy. For example, leading Tories now openly talk of introducing an insurance model to the NHS. ‘Americanisation’ is proceeding on all major fronts.
The success of even one major union’s strike would be a tremendous victory in this war, encouraging workers everywhere. But even an overwhelming victory by rail workers, or postal workers, or any other sector, while it would be a huge step forward, would not by itself stop union rights being curbed, or fix the NHS, or prevent more privatisations. That requires an end to the Tory government and end to Tory policies. These are among the arguments needed to make the movement consciously aware of the political stakes.
This is a situation where every single part of the labour movement, and every socialist, must prepare to play its part in this struggle.
For socialists, even those not directly involved in the strikes, everyone can go on picket lines, demos and rallies, go on social media, take part in radio phone-ins, even write to the local paper explaining why the strikes should be supported and this government should be kicked out – anything which increases support for the strikers. There is no shortage of tasks as almost everyone is affected.
The present Tory offensive is the biggest attack on the majority of the population in the lifetime of all except the very oldest in this country. The political stakes are that high.
More strikes, more strikers, more support for them!
Stronger together! Link the strikes!
No-one voted for this! Kick the Tories and their policies out!