By Jeremy Dewar
As we go to press Liz Truss is about to kiss hands with our aged monarch, thus becoming prime minister, the third time in six years one failed Tory prime minister has been replaced by another.
With an ‘electorate’ of 160,000 geriatric Tory party members, 0.3% of the population chose the country’s leader. Once lying lawbreaker Boris Johnson was evicted from office, another right wing populist was bound to succeed him. Truss certainly fits that bill.
As Foreign Secretary she positioned post-Brexit Britain as close to the US superpower as she could get. She has threatened to provoke a trade war with the EU by withdrawing from parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol and declared that ‘the jury is still out’ over whether France can even be regarded as an ally.
Truss has done all she can to imitate her beloved forebear Margaret Thatcher, including posing on a tank. She enthusiastically endorsed the expansion of Nato to create a new Iron Curtain against Russia. Now the New Cold War warrior wants to increase the ‘defence’ budget to 3% of GDP—at a time of rocketing inflation, rising poverty levels and rampant climate change.
Initially she offered nothing to average households, who on 1 October face an 82% increase in energy bills to an average of £3,549 a year—£300 a month just to heat our homes, a figure that is predicted to double by April 2023.
Truss derided government intervention as ‘handouts’ while safeguarding energy sector profits saying, ‘I don’t believe in windfall taxes’. Yes, it looks likely that she will be forced to concede some help to the needy but that will be in the form of loans, which will have to be paid back. Such a ‘concession’ would confine millions to debt bondage for a decade.
What she does believe in is tax cuts for the rich and the comfortably off. The planned rise in corporation tax from the historically low 19% to 25% will be scrapped. The reversal of the interest rate hike will benefit the richest by £1,800 a year, the poorest by just £7.94.
But low taxes don’t just spell higher profits; they also translate into austerity, slashed public service provision and public sector job cuts. With the economy already in a downturn and a recession forecast in the coming year, this will squeeze both the users and providers of vital public services.
The running down of the NHS, care for the elderly, public transport and state education all have a single purpose: to persuade the middle class to go private and reduce what is left to an inadequate safety net for the poor—like US Medicaid.
But her most explicit promise so far has been to introduce new anti-trade union legislation within 30 days of entering Downing Street:
‘I will do everything in my power to make sure that militant action from the trade unions can no longer cripple the vital services that hard-working people rely on.’
Presumably that is her prerogative!
Truss threatens to raise the bar for any union balloting for strike action. Soon 50% of the union membership will have to vote for action; every vote not cast will count as a vote against. Given unions cannot always keep their records bang up to date, even the dead can vote not to strike!
She wants to demand that public service unions—in transport, the NHS, education, council-run services—have a legal duty to maintain ‘minimum service levels’ during a strike. Workers will be expected to scab on their own strike. Undoubtedly it will be the bosses and government who will set the ‘minimum’ level.
Other aspects of the new bill will be a doubling of the notice period for industrial action from two to four weeks and a limit being set on the number of times a union can strike in a six-month period.
But even before Truss goes inside No. 10, millions of workers are saying, enough is enough.
Posties, rail workers, BT engineers, refuse collectors, dockers, bus drivers… are all taking action in the biggest strike wave for 30 years. Hundreds of thousands have signed up to fight inflation and the freefall in workers’ living standards with Enough is Enough and Don’t Pay.
Rallies up and down the country have been packed to overflowing. Over 500,000 joined Enough is Enough, the campaign launched by the CWU union and Tribune magazine. Another 150,000 have pledged not to pay their energy bills from 1 October if they can raise that figure to 1 million.
Social media has been abuzz with solidarity with those in battle. Even the mainstream media has been forced to acknowledge the anger aroused by the market-driven assault on their households—the dilemma this winter to eat or heat. Now we have to turn that anger into action!
A workers’ government
We must not let Liz Truss settle into the job. Knock her and her cabinet of ghouls off their stride before they get into it. She has already shown her fragility when forced to retreat on her threat to introduce regional pay boards. Let’s see how stable she is when faced with the British working class, not just the Tory party faithful she has been pandering to for six weeks.
The TUC Congress this month must lead the way in coordinating the strikes and calling a general strike if the anti-union laws are used or new ones put forward. If they won’t, Mick Lynch, Sharon Graham and Dave Ward should take the lead. And if they hesitate, we should push them from below.
However, all strikes end eventually, usually in a compromise. Unfortunately the claims, which were often set before inflation really took off, will be a real terms pay cut within a few months even if granted in full. The danger is that this new movement loses its vanguard from the battle before it has got its mass ranks organised and fighting.
Mick Lynch is right when he says, ‘the working class is back’ but the struggles today remain sectional, not class-wide. Councils of action, built locally but joined up nationally, can raise the movement to a new level.
Together we can make the country ungovernable and paralyse the new Tory government. Truss has no mandate; her party has lost the consent of the people; the Tories and the bosses they represent cannot run the economy; they do not deserve to rule.
Of course, the unions should press ahead with fighting inflation for their members but there are some things strikes over wages and conditions alone cannot achieve. They include nationalisation of the utilities, the rail and bus companies, power generation, etc,e plus restoration of budgets for the NHS and education.
Many of these demands were passed by successive Labour Party conferences and were at the centre of the election manifestos of 2017 and 2019. Starmer even deceived the membership into electing him by including some of them in his ‘ten pledges’. This year’s conference must demand that the Corbyn era policies be reinstated and campaigned for.
The unions pay for the Labour Party. In Liverpool they should say: either adopt these policies and fight for them or you will not get our money. Indeed, they should repeat the famous words of Oliver Cromwell, ‘Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of god, go.’
However, the real alternative is not a weak-kneed Labour administration, but a government based on the organised working class, in the communities and the workplaces. We must rebuild a fighting labour and trade union movement at workplace and community level, recruiting millions of workers into the unions. If we can rise to this challenge, we can prove to millions the power of the organised working class and clearly illuminate the need for a real socialist party and a revolutionary government.