Organise the General Strike Now !

Posted: April 3, 2011 in Labour Fight

Organise the General Strike Now !

The working class in Britain is facing a catastrophe. The Con-Dem coalition is a class war government that is not only attacking workers’ pay and conditions at work but also destroying their families by cutting everything from child benefit to pensions. All services from nurseries to ‘meals on wheels’ are being threatened with cuts, ‘reforms’ and privatisation. The aim of this class war government is to return working class families’ living standards to 1930s levels.

To shackle workers’ resistance to this onslaught David Cameron has already said that he is “happy to look” at fresh anti-strike legislation. This is despite Britain already having some of the most draconian labour laws in the EU that rule out secondary picketing, solidarity action like sympathy strikes and even invalidate strike ballots on technicalities. So much for “we’re all in this together” and the cuts being “in the national interest”!

A catalogue of cuts

Ever since May 12 last year it has been obvious that the agenda of the Con-Dem clique was to cut jobs, pay, conditions and services for working class families. Already in June’s emergency budget they attacked pay and benefits, raised taxes for the poor and lowered them for the rich! While they plan to reduce corporation tax from 28% to 24% over four years, they are doing the following for working class families “in the national interest”:

• A freeze on child benefit for the next three years (with the baby element of child tax credit to be abolished from April).

• A two years’ pay freeze for public sector workers earning more than £21,000.

• Caps on housing benefit – from £280 a week for a one-bedroom property to £400 a week for a four-bedroom or bigger.

• Cuts in public sector pensions as recommended by Labour ex-minister John Hutton’s commission.

• Plus a host of other measures like increasing the regressive VAT, which always hits the poorest the hardest, to 20% in January, and fiddling the inflation index used to calculate pay and benefits.

But the class war didn’t end there! On October 20, 2010, there was to be more pain and misery for the working class with £83 billion of cuts in the ‘spending review’. The latest budget – dubbed the “Budget for growth” by the government even though it reduced this year’s growth forecast from 2.1% to 1.7% – has cut corporation tax even more than announced in June.

We can be sure that the suffering we are going to endure “in the national interest” is aimed at increasing the capitalists’ profits. It is no surprise that in a recent bulletin the Bank of England mentions the three main causes of inflation as the government’s VAT rise, high import prices and “some businesses continuing to rebuild profit margins” (BEQB, 2010Q4, p54). So it’s official: the capitalists are not in this for “the national interest” and are busy maximising their profits by raising prices while many poor and vulnerable people are facing destitution.

What about the fight-back?

So what do today’s workers have on their side to resist this unprecedented offensive on the historic gains of previous generations? They have bureaucratic and timid trade unionleaders that, even at best, are not equipped to deal with the new uncompromising methods of the capitalist class. So although we are sure that today’s march will be the biggest show of strength by the trade union movement in decades, and, probably, be a landmark demonstration of the 21st century, we believe that it is too late, too little and with no clear aim in mind! Let’s have a look at each of these in turn.

Too late

On Saturday October 23, more than five months after the Con-Dem coalition was formed, the leaders of the British trade unions finally felt obliged to address their rank-and-file members about the situation we are all in and how we are going to get out of it.

In a week when the whole of France was gripped by a general strike we got the promise of a rally in five months’ time! Why did we have to wait until March? The waiting game that the bureaucrats of the TUC have been playing can only have one effect: to defuse the anger of rank-and-file workers and then to lead to their demoralisation. By now thousands of the 490,000 workers earmarked for sacking are beginning to join the dole queue. They are bound to be less enthusiastic to fight for those of us who are still working! And as for those who still have jobs, the 10 month delay in mobilising, organising and stiffening their resolve will definitely set them up for defeat.

Too little

We can’t dodge the fundamental issue: the strength of the working class can only be hammered into the skulls of the capitalists and their cabal in Downing Street through withdrawing our labour. That is how we have won and built everything that the movement has today. The whole of our movement is basedon workers’ willingness to fight the bosses. Our strength lies in our unity in action and not unity in tut-tutting at the bosses and their government. The gains of the previous generations of working class fighters are not a fixed and permanent legacy. Unless we fight to preserve the gains of workers in the past there will be very little left for the future.

We therefore really needed a general strike months ago!

No clear aim

It is sad to say that today’s march has been organised as a token gesture. First, it gives a nod towards the most militant workers and takes the pressure off the bureaucrats. Second, it gives the bureaucrats cover so that they can say they did their bit but that the members were not very active. This way the membership can be blamed for the defeat. Third, it reinforces the position of the bureaucrats with the capitalist class: we are the only ones who can pacify the workers, trust us.

It’s clear that the TUC leaders have already accepted defeat! In his New Year message the TUC general secretary, Brendan Barber, acknowledged that there would be cuts in jobs and real cuts in living standards. He began‘A horrible year’ – Brendan Barber’s New Year Message with the following one sentence paragraph: “2011 is going to be a horrible year”. The rest of his message continues in the same vein. Faced with the prospect of the worst attack on the working class for at least 60 years, the top leader of the trade union movement did not make a rousing speech rallying our forces against the class enemy. What we got was Barber talking about the cuts of the Con-Dem government as if they are inevitable and that we are completely powerless in resisting them.

Barber even showed concern about the government having a tough year! “It could well be a horrible year for the government too.” Should we care that Cameron, Osborne, Clegg, Cable and Co may face further angry protests? Shouldn’t our movement channel all that anger into smashing the plans of this reactionary government? Following on from getting his class instincts all deliberately mixed up he then comes up with this trite statementabout the British people (again lumping all classes together): “The British people are never that interested in politics …” Here Barber shows the desperate situation of the bureaucrats of the trade union movement, as it tries to straddle the interests of two opposing and irreconcilable classes. They’re even resorting to wiping out the long history of the class struggle and the way workers have tried to influence the political landscape – even forming a reformist party to represent them in the bourgeois parliament.

While Barber and the rest of his bureaucrat mates carry on with their humdrum and pedestrian ways – safe in the knowledge that their fat pensions (paid for by us out of our low wages!) are protected – we can be sure that their cringing and crawling method of the past 10 months is clearly preparing us for nothing but a historic defeat. He and most of the trade union leadership have surrendered to the capitalists’ government before the fight has really begun. If this is the best that our leaders can come up with at this decisive time then it is high time we start building a new leadership! We need leaders who are not afraid of a head-to-head confrontation with the Con-Dems! This is now class against class and we have no doubt which is the strongest class in society– let’s see the flash ‘entrepreneurs’, ‘innovators’ and the ‘investors’ try to run the economy without the workers.

All we need are leaders with guts who will use a general strike to smash the government’s anti-working class policies.

Same old problem

In theory the workers also have the Labour Party on their side. Yet this thoroughly neo-liberal party agrees with the Tories in substance – except it wants the cuts to be spread over four years.It would be easy to blame recent leaders like Blair, Brown or Miliband for this servile state of the workers’ party. However, the rot set in a long time ago. We should not forget that it was a Labour government, led by Harold Wilson, which in April 1975broke away from the post-war Keynesian orthodoxy and introduced a budget that cut public spending by £1.1 billion. In December 1976, with James Callaghan as PM, this was followed up with savage cuts in public expenditure and the budget deficit by around 20 per cent. These cuts were the International Monetary Fund’s preconditions for the $3.9 billion loan.

That Labour government prepared the ground for the Tories’ winin 1979. And, in a similar way, not only did Blair and Brown donothing substantive to reverse Thatcher’s cuts in benefits and services or repeal the anti-union legislation; they smoothed the way for another Tory government. Of course the Labour Party’s betrayals of the working class are not confined to its neo-liberal phase and stretch back to its inception and continue right through the ‘old Labour’ days that many are nostalgic about. The working class therefore also needs to build a new and combative political leadership.

The new impetus

We have already seen how the students revolted against the rise in tuition fees by holding many mass demonstrations. In addition to university and college students many school children saw this as a clear threat to their future and took to the streets for the first time. Their enthusiasm and passion for a fight against this measure inspired many seasoned activists in the trade unions and further afield. Alas, with little or no experience, and in many cases no organisation or leadership, they were mostly unable to channel their anger, activity and militancy positively. This is where the experience of the best elements of the labour movement could have guided them to avoid some pitfalls and make better progress in developing the many aspects of the struggles that await us in the months ahead.

All over the country many working class and poor people are also taking action against specific acts of barbarism by the Con-Dem government. Be it committees that keep libraries open, defend special needs education and so on, many people have no choice but to take action. Despite the BBC trying to whitewash these cuts as “savings”, those on the receiving end know exactly what these are and they are taking action.

International crisis

The cuts we face in Britain are just one part of a ‘solution’ to acrisis that includes most of the EU and many countries outside Europe. Governments all over the world are trying to implement neo-liberal programmes of cuts and other anti-working class measures (whether they are officially right-wing or ‘socialist’). The struggles of workers in Greece, France, Spain, Portugal andelsewhere have included many protests, demonstrations, strikes and even general strikes. They all include valuable lessons on how we can build our struggles here.

This is an international crisis of capitalism and can only be resolved through international workers’ action. We need to organise a general strike in the private and public sector if we’re to avoid a massive and historic defeat! Labour movement activists need to co-ordinate this with – and even lead – other anti-cuts movements and direct action groups that working class families and the poor have organised to defend their services throughout the country. We need to organise as a class to win the class war.

Build a new leadership !

Strike to defend jobs, pay services and pensions !

Organise the general strike now !

Labour Fight


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