KEIR STARMER has a strategy. It is a very bad strategy from a working class point of view, but in the context of Truss and Kwarteng’s mini-budget disaster, suddenly it seemed a great success. It was to win the approval of the employers and the City and show they can be trusted in government.
The Union Jacks, the portraits of the Queen, the singing of God Save the King, along with strict stage management of the proceedings; all were calculated to impress them. The message was clear, this is a party that has purged its left wing or reduced it to silence. Even trade union leaders with striking members were not causing him any trouble.
To achieve this result, many delegates, elected by branches of the party, were excluded by party officials. Even a recently elected member of the National Executive Committee of the party, Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, was suspended to prevent her attending.
That part of the strategy worked very well, the media barons and the political pundits all applauded, and the opinion polls gave Labour a historic lead over the Tories. Which brings us to the next part of Starmer’s strategy, waiting for the Tories to lose their majority in parliament—not to so much to defeat the Tories but let them defeat themselves by fighting like cats in a sack and then lose the next election.
For socialists, that is those who want to take control of society’s wealth from the tiny class of capitalists, to satisfy the needs of the majority of humanity, here and abroad, this is the most dangerous part of Starmer’s strategy.
If it were just a matter of putting Sir Keir into Downing St, the strategy might work. Under Liz Truss, the Tories are trying to combine the anti-working class prejudices of their tiny membership with the economic theories of Ayn Rand and Patrick Minford. They are trying to impose policies that were never mentioned in the manifesto on which they were elected.
This could well make them unelectable in 2024 but, by then, much of the damage will have been done. Millions will be on or below the breadline, even more anti-union laws will have been brought in, and the break-up and hiving off of the of the NHS to private health providers might be nearing completion. And does anyone think that Labour, under Keir Starmer, would reverse all of that?
We need to stop Truss and Kwarteng while they and their party are still in turmoil, before they can even begin to force through their plans. There is no doubt there is mass opposition to them, but there is a big question mark over how to mobilise it. The disputes over pay, conditions and jobs across the public sector are the obvious starting point but they need a dramatic change of course.
One or two day strikes, plans for indicative ballots, weekend demonstrations have already shown they are not enough to win. Mick Lynch’s notice of a new RMT ballot to extend actions into next year may sound very determined but the bosses will see through that. It’s a signal that he will not call an all-out strike. Across the public sector, managements explain, truthfully enough, that they cannot agree to workers’ demands because the government will not release the funds. The conclusion is clear, the unions have to take on the government.
That not only means mobilising for indefinite strikes but combining and coordinating action across industries. To those who object that these would be political strikes we say, yes, of course—the Tories have launched a political offensive against us!
The strikes might also breach the anti-union laws, so be it! Fifty years ago, unions breached the Tories’ Industrial Relations Act to free five dockers from Pentonville jail. That marked the end of the Act, not the unions.
Across the country, there is growing opposition to the Tories but also frustration with the lack of any real opposition to them. At a local level, there are all manner of support and solidarity initiatives. However they start, these need to develop into delegate-based organisations that can coordinate meetings, pickets and demos within all local workplaces and campaigns.
At the national level, however, we see increasing rivalry between campaigns—Enough is Enough, the People’s Assembly, Don’t Pay, which all profess to want united action. In reality, they are designed to promote rival factions within the unions and political groups, as if fighting the Tories needed some sort of competitive branding exercise first. The danger is that their combined effect is closer to paralysis than action.
Activists at all levels of the movement—in the workplaces an communities—should demand an end to this petty rivalry and campaign for a real united front of action, a democratic forum in which all the factions can genuinely have their say but the bottom line is agreements to take united action against the Tories.
That is the way to stop them in their tracks. Success might bring them down as a government, well and good, we will have saved our jobs and services—and be in a better position to deal with any new government. But socialists too need longer term strategy—the exact opposite of Starmer’s. This has to combine fighting on all today’s burning issues, the cost of living crisis, trade union freedom, defending our social gains with the revolutionary goal of social ownership, workers control and planning of the economy for need not greed.