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Editorial: A Labour government will open a new terrain of struggle

13 June 2024

By KD Tait

THIS GENERAL election finds the main parties and their leaders more unpopular than virtually any previous contest. That is not surprising. The Tories have presided over 14 years of unrelenting attacks on the working conditions and living standards of the working class. With the exception of a relatively small layer of affluent homeowners and pensioners, July 4th will see millions of people go to the ballot box feeling the pinch of pay that is lower in real terms than 2010, NHS waiting lists at a record high, and schools and universities physically or financially on the brink of collapse.

Rishi Sunak, our unelected prime minister, was installed after a rebellion by bond market capitalists and the bank of England brought about an abrupt end to Liz Truss’ cabinet. The Tories’ great ‘achievement’ of Brexit, has undermined the economy and accelerated a poisonous wave of chauvinism and racism against migrants and refugees.

The other horse, in what for the most of the UK is a two horse race, is only marginally less unpopular. Keir Starmer has staked his reputation on exorcising the politics and personnel of the brief Corbyn insurrection. From his mendacious abandonment of the programme that secured his election as leader, to his declaration that Israel had ‘the right’ to starve two million residents of Gaza, Starmer has alienated young people, Muslims, and several trade unions, including Unite, the party’s largest donor. His shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves, promises that a Labour government will be ‘the most pro-business’ this country has ever seen. The decision to scrap pledges to abolish fire and rehire and zero hours contracts is an early indication of which side their instincts are on in the class war.

Given the convergence between Labour and the Tories on many key issues, it is understandable that many people draw the conclusion that both parties are just the same. From the point of view of their commitment to capitalism, they are. But from the point of view of what social forces they represent, they are not.

The Tories are the party of open class war. But Labour, whose funds come almost entirely from the trade unions, whose members, voters, and activists come overwhelmingly form the working class, is a party that tries to reconcile the antagonistic interests of capital and labour in government. It is a party that represents the politics of reformism: incremental improvements for the working class within capitalism.

Reformism arises from the existence of a relatively large, well paid and privileged labour aristocracy—a section of the working class whose living and working conditions are good enough to give them a stake in maintaining capitalism, instead of working for its replacement by socialism.

It is from this point of view that revolutionary communists approach the question of elections in Britain. Clearly the working class urgently needs a different party, one that has a programme that really represents its interests, that can develop and implement a strategy for waging the class struggle in the workplace and the streets, as well as in parliament.

The great strike wave of 2022-3 was a clear example. With the disarray of the Johnson and Truss governments, the trade union leaders, anticipating a snap election, deliberately pursued a limited strike strategy in order—as they saw it—to avoid major industrial action hurting Labour’s electoral chances or placing ‘unreasonable’ demands on a Labour government.

With Labour in opposition, the trade union leaders can always hold out a Labour government as an alternative to a serious industrial fight. But when Labour is in government, and has to choose sides, it is a different story. The road to breaking up the pro-capitalist trade union-Labour party lies in putting it into government, exposing the anti-working class nature of its leadership by fighting its capitalist policies and in the process rallying a sizeable vanguard of class fighters to the creation of a revolutionary workers’ party, armed with a Marxist programme.

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