SEPTEMBER 7 — Britain is in shambles. Inflation, energy bills and recession spell disaster for working people. Labour shortages are rampant in almost every industry, social services are teetering towards collapse and housing is crumbling and unaffordable. Trains, airports, sewage, the NHS: nothing works.
Just like the country, the ruling Tory party is in perpetual crisis. After Johnson’s ignominious resignation, Liz Truss is now at the helm, replacing an opportunist moron by a fanatical moron. In the spirit of Thatcher, Truss has promised to crush the unions and further bleed workers. Meanwhile Starmer is rising to the occasion by licking the boots of the ruling class and presenting himself as a reliable technocrat who won’t give an inch to workers. Both have the same answer to the cost-of-living crisis: throwing tens of billions at energy companies, kicking the can down the road hoping the crisis will melt away. Obviously it won’t. Small patch-up jobs will solve nothing and make everything even worse in a few months.
How did we get into this mess? Part of the answer lies with the disastrous government response to the pandemic and Ukraine war. This collided with the effects of the open season on working people since Thatcher defeated the miners. But what most politicians, journalists and leftists won’t say is that these are the symptoms of a deeper problem. British capitalism has been in terminal decline for more than a century. Unable to maintain its empire or compete in anything productive, the ruling class has increasingly liquidated Britain’s industry, putting all its eggs in the City of London. The result is economic desolation throughout England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, privatisation of public services and the prospering of finance capital. From the Queen to the City to the miserable letting and job agencies, the whole ruling class of this country are parasites sucking working people dry.
The solution to the current crisis is simple: the working class should sweep away all these useless parasites and run the country from top to bottom. With the working class in charge and the profit motive cut out, the scourges of price gouging, unemployment, expensive housing and deindustrialisation can all be rapidly eliminated. Obviously, this cannot be accomplished by sending Labour MPs to Her Majesty’s Parliament in Westminster. The parliamentary circus with all its talk, costumes and demagogy is not where real power lies, but in Whitehall, the stock exchange and armed forces. The working class cannot take these over but needs its own organs of class power which can rule the country in its own interests.
Workers rule in Britain is no far-fetched utopian scheme, but the only realistic answer to the crisis. It is urgently needed. What is truly fantastical is to think that the utterly reactionary British ruling class will somehow start caring about workers, or that the Labour Party can be pressured into fighting for working people. Labour has always been and will remain a loyal servant to Crown and City.
So, if the solution to this crisis is straightforward and to a certain degree obvious, why then are we so far from achieving it? This brings us to the nub of the problem, the gigantic gulf between what is needed in Britain today to meet the basic needs of working people and the political solutions put forward by the leaders of the working-class movement in the Labour Party, trade unions and socialist left.
Which road forward?
As the summer of discontent turns into autumn and winter, bills rise and the strike wave continues and expands. Two conclusions can be drawn so far. First, there is obviously seething anger and a clear will to fight among workers. Second, the summer of discontent was not actually very hot. The strikes have been atomised, have had a limited economic impact and have not been a real threat to the bosses and their government.
What is clearly needed is an offensive by the entire working class against the bosses in the form of a general strike. This would be guaranteed to wrest the most concessions for workers as the crisis hits right now. If the entire economy is brought to a halt by the working class, it will also pose the question of who is in charge in the workplace and the country, workers or bosses? But although the need is dire and conditions ripe, no general offensive is being organised. Why not? Because no one in the trade union leadership or Labour Party has any intention of even raising the question of which class should call the shots in this country.
Over the last few months trade union leaders like Mick Lynch (RMT), Sharon Graham (Unite) and Dave Ward (CWU) have been painted as emerging heroes of the working class and the left. Mick Lynch in particular has been effective in shutting up ignorant right-wing journalists. But when it comes to organising a real fight against the bosses, he and the rest of the trade union leadership have in fact been slamming the brakes on class struggle. They have co-ordinated their strikes to not create a major crisis for the government and economy. Their entire strategy rests on running a media campaign that will pressure the bosses, government and Labour to care more about the worsening situation. This is a losing strategy relying on the communication skills of bureaucrats rather than the social power of the working class. It leads to long drawn-out demoralising conflicts which will most likely lead to defeat and drive away popular support.
A consequence of the union leadership’s strategy of appealing to the ruling class is its rejection of the most basic methods of class struggle. Britain’s labour history is famous for its mass picket lines which stop scabs in their tracks. But such methods are presented as ancient history by the very leaders of the trade unions. They comply with the most draconian anti-union laws, waiting until they are repealed in Parliament. Fat chance! In the meantime, unions scabbing on each other’s strikes has become the norm. Anti-union agency work is tolerated. Even the most barbarous capitalist attacks such as the sacking of the P&O workers last March have not been answered with solidarity strikes. These members of the RMT were left to hang by Lynch. Truly enough is enough! For mass picket lines that stop scabs in their tracks! An attack against one is an attack against all! No more agency work! Hire agency workers at full union conditions! Picket lines mean don’t cross!
These are not revolutionary calls, but basic principles of class struggle. For the labour movement to advance it must revive these methods which are today rejected by the likes of Mick Lynch. More fundamentally, what is required is a leadership in the trade unions which will wage the day-to-day battles for the immediate betterment of working and living conditions as part of a broader strategy of bringing the working class to power. A leadership that thinks that with the right amount of pressure and “good will on both sides” workers and bosses can mutually prosper will always sacrifice the interest of workers. Capitalist profit comes from the exploitation of workers; “fair play” with the bosses means workers get fleeced. Only a leadership that understands the utterly reactionary nature of the capitalist class and the need for workers to replace it in running society, can organise a winning offensive right now, win real gains and advance the struggle to end all exploitation and oppression.
The Enough is Enough campaign
In the current context it is obvious to all that piecemeal strikes in individual industries will not solve the generalised crisis in Britain. In such situations the trade union bureaucracy usually relies on Labour to put on a left face and dangle the illusion of real improvement under a Labour government. The problem facing Mick Lynch, Dave Ward, Sharon Graham and Co is that the current Labour leader is hell-bent on purging any whiff of Corbynism from the party and establishing himself as a staunchly pro-business leader. With mounting pressure from workers who want and need radical change, this situation puts the trade union leaders in a bind. Given that Labour refuses to channel the bubbling pressure in the union ranks towards Parliament and the trade union tops refuse to wage a real struggle, there needs to be another outlet.
This is where the Enough is Enough (EiE) campaign steps in. Led by Mick Lynch and Dave Ward, in alliance with socialist-lite Zarah Sultana, and a handful of other left-Labour politicians, its stated aim is to fill the political vacuum. Since its launch EiE has garnered widespread support. This popularity is due to the real thirst for a political alternative to the reactionary policies currently on offer as well as to the simplicity and appeal of its five main demands: 1) A real pay rise 2) Slash energy bills 3) End food poverty 4) Decent homes for all 5) Tax the rich.
The truth however is that EiE is designed to be nothing but a toothless public opinion campaign. It is not a step in the right direction as most on the left argue but an obstacle to mounting a fight for real change. It is centred on appealing to politicians in Westminster to take up the campaign’s five points. The main target is Starmer who EiE hopes to pressure into a more leftist stance. Lynch has been pretty clear that he thinks “Starmer would be a good Prime Minister, he’s very thoughtful and competent — but he’s got to find a spark” (London Economic, 25 July). EiE hopes to be Starmer’s spark. To really turn up the pressure the CWU under Ward has suspended any donations to the Labour Party…apart from affiliation fees. Until Sir Keir fulfils his “leftist potential” Lynch and Ward are aligning themselves with the Labour left, working with MPs, mayors and councillors “who have our backs” such as Sultana and (ex-Blairite) Andy Burnham. In short, the whole reason for EiE’s existence is to soothe the need of Lynch and Ward for a political solution which isn’t a general offensive against the capitalists.
But let’s say the wildest dreams of the Labour left come true: Corbyn wins back the leadership of the party and is swept to government on a wave of popular support for socialism, then what? To achieve such basic things as “decent homes for all” they would have to seize the property of huge swathes of the ruling class and go against fundamental interests of the capitalist class. How? With a bill in Parliament? It is enshrined deep in the Labourite DNA that this is the only legitimate vehicle to enact social change. The ruling class unfortunately does not have such qualms and will sooner get rid of Parliament than let itself be dispossessed by some piece of paper. Whoever does not understand this understands nothing of class struggle. Left Labourism is not a programme for struggle but a programme for conciliation and capitulation. The attempt by EiE to revive the popularity of left Labourism after the Corbyn debacle can only swindle discontented workers and youth into a time-tested dead end.
Socialists should fight for…socialist leadership
The left scene in Britain is rife with “socialist” groups all virtually indistinguishable one from another, many claiming to be Trotskyists. With so many organisations claiming to be socialist, one cannot help but wonder why it is that the fight for socialism plays no significant role in the national debate? To understand this quandary, it is necessary to have a look at what these “socialists” do exactly.
While groups like the Socialist Party, Socialist Appeal, the Socialist Workers Party and the Communist Party of Britain all swear to be for a “socialist transformation of society” and such radical measures as nationalising the “top 150 companies”, they all support and promote leaders and movements who are explicitly opposed to socialist revolution. For example, they are all jubilant about Mick Lynch, who proudly calls himself a “reformist” and wants nothing to do with revolution. The EiE campaign is similarly hailed as “a welcome development” (eg Socialist Appeal, 19 August). It is a welcome development that there is a rising sentiment for radical change. But it is a huge obstacle to the fight for socialism that this sentiment is being channelled onto an explicitly parliamentary reformist road.
Socialists must fight against workers and youth being led by non-socialist movements like EiE. If they do not do this, they are not socialists but left cheerleaders for a reformist movement.
The main focus of most of the “socialist” left has been to pressure the TUC to “co-ordinate strikes”, some go further and advocate the TUC call a “general strike” (News Line, 6 September). It is certainly necessary to organise and advocate such working-class offensives, but the real question is who will lead them and under which programme? To be successful such battles need to be conducted by working-class leaders who are ready to go all the way in their fight against the ruling class. Instead of this the current trade union leadership is made up of the same spineless people that oversaw the last 30 years of sell-outs. Any left organisation which is calling on the current TUC to lead a general strike is advocating going into battle with leaders that will sell out at the first opportunity, just like the TUC did in 1926.
The situation in Britain does urgently cry out for a general strike! The first step to prepare such a strike is to break with the TUC-begging, Lynch-tailing socialists who are busy building those very leaderships that stand as obstacles to victory. To advance the cause for socialism there needs to be a fight throughout the labour movement for a new leadership that is committed to the working class taking power. To this end, we put forward the following programme to be fought for now, in the trade unions, Labour and the socialist left:
For mass picket lines that stop scabs in their tracks!
For a 30 per cent pay rise and a sliding scale of wages!
Seize the North Sea oil rigs! For union control over distribution of gas and energy at production costs!
Down with sanctions against Russia! Let Russian gas in! Down with NATO and British imperialism! Ukrainian, Russian workers: Turn the guns against your rulers!
For a planned economy to rebuild the NHS, rehouse and reindustrialise Britain!
Down with the monarchy and the reactionary United Kingdom! For workers governments!