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Editorial: Their crisis is our opportunity

Milton Friedman, the Monetarist economist who inspired Thatcher, once said that you can only carry out lasting change if there is a state of crisis.
Well today the politicians are using the economic crisis to carry out lasting structural reforms to the economy. Across Europe that means the destruction of the welfare state and the other social gains of the post-war period.
In Britain it means war against the entire working class, whether private or public sector, old or young. Cameron said in 2008 that he wanted to do to society what Thatcher did to the economy, that is destroy the public services replace them with ones based on profit and the market.
In our struggle to stop this we find few allies in the Labour party today. MPs like John McDonnell, who join picket lines and oppose all the cuts, are a rare, some would say a dying breed.
Labour leader Ed Miliband condemns strikes in defence of our services and Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls says Labour won’t undo the cuts if they get into government. They won’t even undo the privatisation of the NHS.
Their entire project is slavish loyalty to Big Business – assuring the bankers and profiteers that in government they are a safe pair of hands. The electorate they are wooing is the selfish middle class who want to cherry pick the best schools for their kids. The only parts of the working class they want to woo are those “worried about immigration.”
An election programme built on such policies will neither defeat the Tories and the Lib-Dems nor inspire workers to defend our gains.
We need to build a party which can really challenge the pro austerity programmes of the rich. A party of thousands on thousands of activists from every battle front where we are resisting the attacks. We don’t just want to stop the cuts or save the NHS – we want to build a new kind of society, one based on collective action, genuine community, without poverty, with jobs, education, healthcare and housing for all.
The left is fighting the defensive struggles but we have to go onto the offensive against capitalism- ideologically too. I agree with Friedman that a crisis is an opportunity for change – now we have to get organised to fight for the revolutionary change we need.
Three million workers could strike on 30 November. This will mark a major step in uniting the resistance to the coalition government’s cuts and austerity programme. But whilst more warlike words from union leaders are a welcome change, we still have have to be on our guard. If the government and the judges apply either the carrot of further negotiations or the stick of declaring the actions unlawful or invalidating ballots, then our leaders resolve may waver.
Only powerful organisation at a rank and file level can ensure that things go ahead.
We should be under no doubt that the government and bosses will see these cuts through to the end. They will only offer minor concessions as a way to buy off sections to break our common front before returning to the offensive.
Most of the union leaders have only called action with a view to getting their feet under the negotiating table again. They think big one-day strikes every six months will make Cameron and Clegg negotiate seriously. They are dreaming. We have seen huge one-to-three day strikes in France, Greece, Spain and Portugal. They have not modified the austerity measures let alone stopped them.
They are designed to show the government that the union chiefs are serious… about talking. The governments know that the unions won’t go further; they can ride out a one-day strike. Normal service will be resumed the next day.
So we need to see 30 November not as the pinnacle of the struggle but as only the beginning. We need serious and rapid escalation, not conciliation.
In this sense the unions need to be transformed from the bottom up. Massive general unions mean massive bureaucracies, staffed with people who have no stomach for an all out fight. They create a culture of passivity amongst the membership and refuse to campaign for a real fighting lead bar the odd token strike.
Those that want to fight need to get organised – we need to build new grass roots led organisations which connect across the unions, join up with the social movements and young people fighting for education rights. The construction workers are an excellent example of what the rest of us should be doing.

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