On a sunny Saturday afternoon in
Manchester, around 70 people gathered in the Friends’ Meeting House to debate
how best to fight the onslaught of cuts this Tory government is about to
Speakers included local CWU actinides Peter Keenlyside and Matthew
Brown talking about the oncoming privatisation of Royal mail, which if not
defeated will spell the end of the universal postal service. Speaking alongside
them was retired former Halifax MP Alice Mahon, who warned us of the need to
combat the dishonest pro-cuts propaganda of the capitalist press, reminding us
of Joseph Göbbels’ chilling dictum that a lie repeated often enough becomes
The panel also included three trade union
general secretaries: Jeremy Dear of the NUJ, Matt Wrack of the FBU and Steve
Gillan of the POA (Prison Officers’ Association). All three gave very radical
speeches. Jeremy spoke in detail about the huge levels of tax evasion
undertaken by big business, running into the billions and more than enough to
severely dent the national debt. However, he went on to point out that it is
the system, capitalism, which is rotten and must be confronted.
Matt spoke about the current firefighters’
dispute in London, where the workers have had new (and worse) terms and
conditions imposed on them by their employer without any sort of consultation.
He is a proud socialist – when asked what alternative there was to cuts and
austerity, he replied that he would not have ‘bailed out’ the banks, but
Steve raised another important issue, that
of the anti-union laws. Prison Officers have suffered more than most here – the
last Labour government disgracefully brought in legislation banning them from
taking industrial action at all (even an overtime ban was challenged in court)!
His members were prepared, he said, to stand up and break these anti-union
laws. It’s time the leaders of out biggest unions, Unite and Unison, followed
But the most radical speech was reserved
for the end, to be delivered by John McDonnell, Labour MP and chair of the LRC.
John reminded us how the collapse of the financial sector had "pulled back
the curtains to reveal the whole rotten system." He explained that we need
to understand how the crisis, in his words "a classical crisis of
capitalism as explained by Marx," came about and what alternatives we
Real wages actually fell during the last
boom, he explained, leading to an anaemic boom based on credit. This ludicrous
situation lead to investment banks taking American mortgages, and selling them
on as financial instruments so many times that investors lost track of what
they originally related to. The completely abstract nature of these financial
‘commodities’ being traded and the international nature of the financial
industry, made it possible for unfortunate American families defaulting on
their mortgages to trigger a complete collapse of world finance.
What is our alternative? Socialism, said
John. He called for banks, public services and industry to be publically owned
and democratically managed by the workers and users of the services.
"We must return Labour to power on a
Socialist programme," John continued. But he also pointed out that
parliament is only one platform and the real battles will be
"extra-parliamentary". We must show complete solidarity with all
workers in struggle, as well as community-based and other campaigns that stand
up to the Tories. John said that the anti-union laws must be stood up to and
seperate disputes must be coordinated on a local level, as a step towards
building a general strike.
The discussion from the floor was lively,
with a number of trade unionists discussing their disputes. One worker from
MerseyCare (mental health) highlighted the disgusting practice of insurance
companies buying bed-space and consultants’ time, allowing private (paying)
patients The task for socialists is to struggle for the ideas of Marxism to
become the property of the Labour and trade union movement, to mobilize for a
fighting leading armed with a clear socialist programme.
A common theme has been tax: workers see
how the wealthy and big business get away wit dodging £billions, which could
pay for new schools and hospitals and help keep public services running. George
Osborne’s writing off of Vodafone’s £5-6bn tax bill is currently making the
news – one law for the rich, another for the rest of us. Many are beginning to
argue that these millionaires must not be allowed to keep avoiding their taxes.
This correspondent drew a comparison with the French revolution of 1789; one of
the key grievances of the ‘Third Estate’ was that the ruling classes (the
nobility and the church) didn’t pay any taxes – only the poor paid anything!
However, in order to challenge this, the system as a whole had to be challenged
in a revolutionary fashion – the same applies today! Even if the capitalists paid all the taxes due then they
would still be in possession of vast amounts of wealth stolen from the working
class. This wealth put to use as
part of a socialist plan of production could solve many of the problems facing
society today. At present it exists to benefit the few whilst the many are
having to pay, in the form of cuts and job losses, for a crisis not of their making.
The majority of people there, mindful of
the damage Thatcher caused, realised that we cannot sit back and wait for the
next election, or for the coalition government to fall apart – we much take
them on now. Through the Labour movement and the youth, we must begin to
organise coordinated action on a local level. Trades Councils can play a
critical role in bringing diaperate disputes together into local united action.
This would be an important step towards organising a 24 hour general strike.
As the mood becomes more militant, the opportunities will grow for the
Marxists to play a leading role in this struggle.