90,000 demonstrated in London last Saturday, and thousands more in Glasgow and Belfast, at the plight of Britain’s low paid. This followed a week of strike action involving hundreds of thousands of workers. Rob Sewell explains how, in this period of permanent capitalist crisis, the labour movement must fight back with a bold socialist programme.
90,000 demonstrated in London last Saturday, and thousands more in Glasgow and Belfast, at the plight of Britain’s low paid. This followed a week of strike action involving hundreds of thousands of workers. It was the first time in 32 years that strikes had hit the NHS, so angry had staff become of being treated like dirt.
The tens of thousands at the TUC demonstrations reflected the growing anger and bitterness towards Cameron’s coalition government and their policy of wage cuts.
Desire and need to fight
Although not a small demonstration by any stretch of imagination, it nevertheless was smaller than previous demonstrations, especially the one-million-strong protest against austerity in March 2011. In that sense, it did not fully reflect the real deep-seated anger that exists in Britain, which has increased year-on-year.
You can sense that workers are growing sceptical of demonstrations, as they are about limited industrial action, which seems to lead nowhere. Such limited actions are certainly not enough to make the government budge. Cameron can simply ignore such pin pricks.
The stubborn refusal of government to concede a small increase in pay is not simply due to the ineffectiveness of limited industrial action, but is also a reflection of the of the deep crisis facing British capitalism. This crisis means that the system cannot afford reforms as in the past. As we are aware, even if the employers are forced to grant concessions with one hand, they take them back with the other.
This does not mean that we should not fight. Rather, it means that we need a clear programme, strategy and tactics. Unfortunately, the leaders of the Labour movement are bereft of such ideas.
Labour leaders promise more of the same
The Labour Party leaders are behaving no better than the Tories. In reality, there is very little between them. Labour has completely bought into capitalism and has accepted the Tory spending plans (i.e. cuts) and continued wage freeze in the public sector. No wonder there is no enthusiasm for Labour. According to the latest Ipsos Mori poll for October, while the Tories are on 30%, Labour is only on 33%, while the Lib-Dems are on 8% and UKIP 16%. In regards to Ed Miliband, his approval rating is a net minus 34%, only just ahead of Nick Clegg, the sell-out merchant, on minus 37%.
Labour’s response to the near victory of UKIP in Greater Manchester was a move to the right and a promise to tighten up on immigration. The only real answer to fears of immigration should be to dramatically build more houses, eradicate unemployment, boost pay and provide more schools and hospitals. But that cannot be achieved on the basis of capitalism, especially when it is in deep crisis.
The trade union leaders don’t act much better. Instead of unions all striking together, they strike at different times and only for limited periods. In this way, rather than building unity they sow confusion.
Len McCluskey, the general secretary of Unite the Union, says Labour should be bold and audacious. We agree. But to begin with, why don’t the unions, starting with Unite, be “bold and audacious” over fighting this government? Len says that we need a Labour government that will “provide hope” for people. However, on a capitalist basis there is no hope. On a capitalist basis, we are facing years and decades of austerity and wage cuts.
Decades of crisis and austerity under capitalism
This is not only our view. It is the perspective of the strategists of Big Business also. The feverish swings on the stock market are a reflection of an incurable malaise, as in the 1930s.
“At the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in October 2013, the euro-zone crisis was officially declared over”, states Wolfgang Münchau in the Financial Times. “A year on we know that this optimism proved illusory: we have entered year seven of a depression that refuses to end.”
“The timeline shows obvious parallels with the Great Depression in the US. It was declared over in 1936 when pre-crisis levels of economic activity were reached. Fiscal and monetary tightening led to a renewed recession in 1937 and 1938. In reality, these were not two consecutive recessions, just as there was no double-dip recession in the Eurozone recently, or a trip-dip in the case of Italy. They were all long single depressions with interruptions. The Eurozone depression started in 2008. What the world celebrated last year was the false dawn of one of these interruptions.
“On many levels, our depression is worse than the one 80 years ago.”
Our Big Business strategist goes on to explain, “What ended the Great Depression was the fiscal expansion to finance preparations for World War II – hardly a model to follow.” (FT, 6/10/14)
With nuclear weapons, world war is certainly not an option. Capitalists go to war for profits and markets, not an incinerated planet. This means that all the contradictions will be internalised. “The depression”, explains our capitalist expert, “is in danger of turning into a secular stagnation – measured in generations, not years.”
Anger towards the establishment
This is a dire warning to working people! This is a calamity facing the working class in Britain and internationally. If ever there was a time we needed to challenge capitalism and offer a bold socialist alternative it is now.
Never before have millions of people have been so dissatisfied or angry as today. The Scottish referendum clearly reflected this anti-establishment (i.e. anti-capitalist) mood that is affecting every part of Britain. Workers are saying “Enough is enough!”. Unfortunately, the leadership of the trade union and Labour movement are acting as if it is business as usual. Rather than giving expression to this mood, they act as an almighty barrier.
A system in terminal decline
All attempts to patch up capitalism are doomed to fail. The system is in terminal decline. The only way to save ourselves is to expropriate Big Business, the bankers and financiers – the giant monopolies – and place the economy in the hands of working people. Instead of producing for the profit of billionaires, we will produce for human need. The “commanding heights” of the economy would then be democratically owned and planned, utilising the full resources of society, to transform the lives of millions of people. This is what we would call being “bold and audacious”!
This full use of productive capacity, together with the application of science and technique, would allow the introduction of a 20-hour working week with increased income. This would allow time for people to be involved in the running of society, as well as participating in art, culture and leisure.
This would mean, in the words of Frederick Engels, “a leap from the realm of necessity to the realm of freedom.” It would mean the abolition of all the ills of capitalism – unemployment, homelessness, poverty and exploitation – and the opening of a new higher stage of human development and prosperity.