Editorial: we can beat the cuts – but only with a new strategy and a new leadership
The TUC has called a national demonstration against austerity in the autumn under the banner “A Future that Works”.
This demo comes more than 18 months after the TUC’s “March for the Alternative”. By any standards, one isolated demo every year and a half is a pathetic response to the worst capitalist crisis since the 1930s.
Nevertheless, there is every possibility that we could see half a million or more on the streets on 20 October because the Coalition is increasingly hated.
Unemployment is stuck at a 20-year high of 2.65 million, with millions more stranded in part-time jobs, fictitious self-employment or the grey economy.
The image of 80 young jobseekers being forced to sleep out under London Bridge before a 14-hour shift stewarding the Queen’s Jubilee – all on workfare, without receiving a penny in pay – sums up the reality of Tory Britain.
But while anger will certainly mobilise hundreds of thousands to march, it has to be set against the backdrop of a disorderly retreat in the pensions dispute that was supposed to provide a lawful pretext for united resistance to the Tory- LibDem onslaught.
On N30, 2 million workers struck against the government’s “pay more, work longer, get less” pension proposals. It was the biggest single day of strike action since 1926 and coordinated the actions of 30 unions. But it was, as the French say, a strike with no tomorrow.
Within a fortnight the alliance had fatally fractured. The largest unions signed “no strike” agreements to pursue (secret) scheme-by-scheme talks, which resulted in the very same proposals that we struck against being “recommended” a few months later.
The more militant unions lost their nerve. A couple more partial strikes were mounted in March and May but despite conference votes to keep up the fight, by the summer it was all but over.
Sparks lead the way again
In complete contrast to this, electricians have reminded us how effective rank and file action can be. Fresh from their victory over construction giants like Balfour Beatty, 600 workers at Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station in Nottinghamshire, led by the “Sparks”, walked out in defence of health and safety rep Jason Poulter.
Without waiting for a ballot or worrying about the anti-union laws, these workers frightened their bosses enough to win Jason’s reinstatement.
The truth is that we can beat the cuts – but only if we can forge a new strategy and a new leadership. We can all follow the Sparks’ example and organise at the rank and file level so when the officials sell out the fight goes on.
Local anticuts committees are generally in a poor state as a result of the union leaders’ cowardice. But these committees can revive if they use the next four months to mobilise for 20 October. They should bring workers, students and benefit claimants together to plan direct action, occupations and strikes, developing into real action committees by drawing in every section of society suffering from the cuts.
For the union bureaucrats, official marches and one-day stoppages every year and a half may be enough – but we cannot afford to limit our action to polite protests and wait for Labour in 2015.
Ed Miliband could not even bring himself to support the N30 strike and says he will not reverse the Tory cuts. Now he is in talks with Lib Dem grandees with a view to forming a coalition with them after the next election. He repeatedly snubs the union leaders who pay 80 per cent of his party’s expenses. How can we trust Labour to reverse the cuts or restore our ravaged health, welfare and education services?
We need a political alternative: a new party that supports every fight against austerity, both in Britain and abroad; that links these separate battles together into a class struggle against capitalism; that prepares the working class to take power so that it can run society itself without the need for an exploiting class telling us what to do.
Revolutionary times have returned to southern Europe. But they will only turn into real revolutions if socialists can draw up a revolutionary programme to guide the action of millions and forge a new mass party to fight for it in the class struggle.