THE WORLD is witnessing dramatic and far-reaching changes. The global credit crunch has turned into an historic financial crisis. A series of corporations – some of them major icons of American capitalism – have collapsed into bankruptcy, been forced into takeovers or were nationalised. And we are still only at the beginning. Major recessions now loom in world’s major economic including Britain. Major corporations are already fighting to stay alive in a frenzied bout of takeovers. States will also desperately seek to shift the worst effects of the crisis onto one another.
There is one thing, however, that capitalists and ruling politicians will agree on: to make the working class pay for the economic crisis. Job losses, unemployment, pay cuts and home repossessions are on the way. But the working class did nothing to cause the crisis – so why should we pay for it? We shouldn’t.
We urgently need to draw up a plan of action to resist this onslaught. What sort of organisation do we need? What demands should we fight for? What tactics should we fight around? These are the crucial questions our class faces today. A Workers’ Answer to the Crisis is addressed to these questions and problems.
But it also goes further. In the 21st century, if we are to avoid decades more war, poverty and exploitation, then resistance to the bosses’ attacks must – more than ever – be linked to the overthrow of capitalism and a socialist world.
This is why A Workers’ Answer to the Crisis proposes a strategy that links our immediate struggles to the socialist goal.
It is not a manifesto of reforms for parliamentary legislation but a set of proposals for working class action on the streets and in the workplaces.
Every one of the policies we raise addresses the immediate interests of our class. None of of the solutions we propose are compatible with the capitalist system. Each and every one of them undermines the ability of the capitalists to exploit us.
A Workers’ Answer to the Crisis is the British action programme of the revolutionary socialist organisation, Workers Power. If you agree with it, we urge you to join us and help turn it into a reality.
Brown’s Britain goes bust – but why should workers pay the price?
Gordon Brown used to boast that of all the world’s biggest economies, only Britain had managed to go 16 years without a recession. He even promised ‘no return to boom and bust’. But that was then, and this is now.
Today a deepening economic crisis is hitting Britain. The credit crunch – a bank crisis that began in the USA – is hitting the real economy hard, not just in the UK but in America, Europe and Japan. Prices are rising and a recession is under way. Brown’s Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling admits that the crisis is the most serious Britain has faced for 60 years.
Starting as an American mortgage crisis in 2007 with hundreds of thousands losing their homes, it developed into a credit crunch where banks stop lending to companies. This led to the collapse of banks like Northern Rock and some big US banks too.
The crisis in the banks is part of a crisis in the real economy. The big companies’ profits are under pressure so bank loans to businesses and consumers are drying up. We see serious inflation of prices for food and fuel, and we see a downturn in production that will lead to job losses mounting in the years ahead.
Central banks like the Bank of England and the European Central Bank are caught between a rock and a hard place: raise interest rates to fight inflation and they could unleash a slump, lower them to help companies borrow and prices will spiral. So take your choice: the slow poison of a falling real wage or the sudden bullet of a P45. Both mean workers are being forced to pay the price of a crisis we never made.
Already in Britain prices of basics like food, gas, petrol, electricity and rent are rising at several times the official rate of inflation. Public and private sector employers and their experts and media pundits are demanding in chorus that wages must be held down below price rises “to fight inflation.” This means one thing and one thing only: that our wages should go down in value so that the bosses’ profits don’t.
As always Labour does what the bosses tell it. The Labour government is trying to force public sector workers to accept wage increases of no more than 2.4 per cent, a 2 per cent wage cut even by their own ridiculously low official inflation figure. Many more workers will get no wage rise at all.
Brown promised to govern ‘for the many, not the few’. But under Labour the class divide in our capitalist society is growing wider. The 600,000 wealthiest people in Britain are 1 per cent of the population but own 23 per cent of its wealth – and they have more than doubled their assets under Labour. Meanwhile for the rest of us real wages are falling, the gap between rich and poor is growing and child poverty has risen.
Brown has one rule for the rich bosses and another for the working class. He pumps billions into the City to prop up the banks when they are in trouble. But he doubled the 10% tax rate for the lowest paid workers and has dared to tell workers we need to tighten our belts. He told poor people to eat less food (to add insult to injury he said it when he was tucking into an eight-course meal at the G8 Summit!) He refused to bring in a windfall tax on the profiteering gas and electric companies who have hiked bills for household heating this winter, and has refused a special payment to help us heat our homes. Instead he calls for ‘greater fuel efficiency’: which means turn the fire down and put on a jumper.
As if price rises weren’t bad enough, now the recession is bringing the threat of major job cuts and rising dole queues. Already in “full-employment” Britain over a million and a half are unemployed, itself a figure massaged by over a million being transferred onto disability benefit. One Bank of England policymaker has warned that another half a million will join those signing on in the coming year. If we allow the recession to rip without a fightback, the super-rich bosses will throw thousands more onto the dole, breaking homes, wrecking communities and denying young people a future.
Why should this be allowed to happen? The working class didn’t cause the global economic crisis – it was the bankers, the huge corporations and their profit system. We shouldn’t pay for it – they should.
No wonder working people are fighting back all over the world. In Asia, Africa and South America there have been riots and strikes as prices for rice, wheat and cooking oil have soared. And in Europe there have been angry protests and strikes in Belgium, Germany, France and Greece against the impact of the crisis on working people.
In Britain too there is a rising mood of resistance. In April and July 2008 there were large strikes of public sector workers – council workers, teachers, cleaners – and in the private sector Shell tanker drivers smashed the 2 per cent pay limit and won 14 per cent after a brilliant four-day strike. On the railways and the buses, in the government offices, in council services, schools and colleges, in the post offices, in factories and offices all over the country the anger is mounting and the mood is there for a fight.
The race is on to organise the fightback as the country slips into recession. Who will be made to pay the cost of this new bust after so many years of boom and profit?
The Labour Party: funded by the workers – ruling for the bosses
After its longest ever period in power, the Labour Party is facing meltdown at the next election. Over the last decade workers have had the chance to see just what Blair and Brown really stand for. Now it is obvious to millions that Labour doesn’t look after the interests of working class people – that it’s in hock to the bankers and the billionaires.
In working class areas across Britain, once loyal Labour voters are refusing to turn out for the party that doubled income tax for the low paid while cutting tax for the richest.
But it’s not just workers abandoning Labour. Many of the middle classes and rich people who jumped aboard the New Labour bandwagon when Blair took the party to the right have jumped off and are clambering aboard Cameron’s. So after more than a decade in the wilderness, the Tories – that vicious bosses’ party of Thatcher and Major, of cruel cuts, the Poll Tax and mass unemployment – have re-emerged all smiley and nice and are riding high in the polls.
Faced with the return of the Tories, the leaders of the biggest three trade unions – Unite, GMB and Unison – say workers must rally round Labour to keep the Tories out. What’s more they say we need to tone down trade union resistance to Brown’s government so we don’t help the Tories back in.
Both of these arguments are dangerous rubbish that will only help the rich capitalists. If we sit on our hands then by the next election we’ll already have suffered a serious decline in our living standards while the bosses make us pay for the crisis. Labour will probably lose anyway – but our unions will be in a weaker position to fight the Tories if we’ve already let the bosses walk all over us in the meantime.
The immediate danger to the working class is the Labour government today. It is Brown who is holding down our wages, preparing to cut jobs and services, and who is keeping British troops occupying Iraq and Afghanistan in unjust wars the people never backed. It is Brown who is threatening us with the Tory anti-union laws and who is continuing the hated Tory policy of gradual privatisation of education and hospitals. Following in Blair’s footsteps, Brown brought in so-called ‘anti-terror laws’ to snoop and harass and control people, blaming blameless migrants and Muslims for problems caused by the system, and criminalising young working class people in a wave of spot searches, Asbo orders and moral panics.
We need to fight Brown now. To those who say that runs the risk of letting the Tories in, we need to reply: only if the working class doesn’t build an alternative party to Labour and the Tories. Our unions, with their millions of members and millions of pounds, could do that tomorrow if they gave the word.
Right now workers are ready for action to win above-inflation pay rises. We can’t afford not to strike! If we put up a militant struggle now, we can beat Brown and defend our living standards. Then the next government, whether it’s led by Cameron or even some Labour replacement for Brown like Miliband or Cruddas, would be in a weaker position to attack the working class because we’d already have shown our strength.
But if we hold back and let the employers and the government force our pay down and break or weaken our resistance, then the next government, whatever party it is, will find it all the easier to divide and rule.
And make no mistake: we can beat this government. An amendment to the 2008 TUC Congress showed how: by united strike action across the unions to smash the 2 per cent pay limit. So many delegates at the TUC Congress voted for this that they had to have a special ‘card vote’ so the union leaders could vote it down. The delegates from Unite – one of the big three unions – wanted to vote for action, so Unite leader Derek Simpson even pretended to have ‘lost’ his voting card so the call for action didn’t get through the Congress!
The union leaders were under so much pressure because their millions of members want action now. It’s obvious: united strike action now can protect our living standards against inflation, can halt attempts to create large-scale unemployment, can protect our pensions, can halt the privatisation by stealth (“reforms”) of health service, education, the civil service, the postal services. We can say in the face of the coming recession: we will not pay the price for the system’s crisis.
What if the rich aren’t willing to pay? What if their system can’t afford the taxes and the investment in public services we need? What if the whole set-up of the banking system and big private corporations can only survive if we, the workers, tighten our belts so they can start making mega-profits again?
Well, if that’s true, workers should draw a simple conclusion: one the bosses won’t like. If the profit system cannot be restored to health except by condemning the already poor to greater poverty, except by demanding a miserable life for pensioners and no hope for the young, then it deserves to be put out of its misery, and as quickly as possible. And the working class are the ones who can do it: because we produce all the wealth, because nothing happens unless we do it, because we are the overwhelming majority, and because if we organised to do it, we could easily run society for the general good instead of for the profit of a tiny handful.
That’s the way forward – to pile on the pressure for our unions to break with Labour and form a new party, and start organising for a united strike against inflation – whether the pro-Labour union leaders give us permission or not.
The union leaders and the crisis of working class leadership
It will take planning and organisation to beat the bosses’ attack on our living standards. We need a strategy not only to beat off the capitalist offensive, but to win a decisive victory over the cutters, privatisers and profiteers. We need to get them off our backs for good.
This means three things. First it means organising ourselves at a local level to deliver powerful action where we all stand together. Second it means organising within the unions and workplaces so the weak-kneed union leaders can’t block effective action and do deals with Brown and the bosses behind our backs. Third it means using Brown’s political crisis to break our unions away from Labour and form a new workers’ party.
As a first step we need to restore the infrastructure of resistance, starting in our workplaces and local communities. Union organisation today is much weaker than it was 25 years ago. The unions have only half the number of members and cover only half the percentage of the workforce they did then. And even these figures ignore the fact that union membership today is heavily in the public sector. Over half public sector workers are union members but in the private sector the figure is only 16 per cent. The number of shop stewards and workplace representatives has fallen sharply.
Trades councils, once local centres for solidarity and resistance, have shrivelled and disappeared. Labour, once a party with large ward organisations and members in every working class housing estate, has all but disappeared from huge areas of the working class heartlands. An entire network of organisations that waged the great working class battles of the 1970s and 80s has, on the watch of the Labour right and the TUC’s “new realists”, shrunk to alarmingly low levels.
It is high time we restored the fighting strength of our workplace, union, community and above all political organisations. We must rebuild the system of workplace reps or shop stewards, so that every sizeable workplace has a committee or council of such representatives. We need to rebuild local representative bodies either reviving the trades councils, or building new labour movement assemblies or committees of action. Call them what we will, they must be capable of mobilising action in solidarity with any section of workers that goes into struggle, taking up and debating the practical and political issues we face on the road to defeating the bosses plans. In this way we can not only strengthen our struggles from below, we can start to build up an alternative centre of power in society, real centres of working class planning and organisation.
In this fightback we will find at best half-hearted leadership from the general secretaries of the new mega-unions. At worst we will get what we have witnessed too often in the last few years – verbal opposition to the government, idle threats, followed by humiliating climb-downs. Like the Grand Old Duke of York, they lead out their industrial troops to battle with strike ballots, the occasional carnival-like demonstration, and even the odd one-day strike, what the French workers call ‘strikes with no tomorrow’. And in this way they dissipate the anger, disappoint the hopes, and spread demoralisation till they can win a ballot for a paltry offer.
We need better leaders, leaders really willing to fight, leaders not in the pocket of Brown and the most right wing leadership the Labour Party has even known.
The more left-wing union leaders – Bob Crow (of the RMT transport union), Mark Serwotka (of the civil servants’ PCS), Matt Wrack (of the FBU firefighters) and others – are prepared to take industrial action and have talked about the need for a political break with Labour. They have supported various political and trade union campaigns aiming to fight back against Labour. But they too have a definite habit of delaying, holding back, failing to denounce the betrayals from their right wing fellow general secretaries, fearing a break with them. In fact if we put all our hopes in these leaders than we are asking for disappointment. Of the three leaders just mentioned, only Crow backed the amendment to the TUC Congress that called for united strike action. The other two bottled it.
And even if every union was led by someone like Bob Crow, these leaders would still be able to call off action at the drop of a hat if they changed or buckled under pressure, leaving their members without leadership.
That is why we need to organise the rank and file in the unions, fighting with the left leaders when they fight but without and against them if and when they fall back or surrender.
Just electing someone who says they are militant will be no use unless we change the whole way we keep control of union officials. They should be really under the control of the rank and file workers. They should be paid a salary that puts them in the same income bracket and lifestyle as their members. They must be subject to regular election and instant recall by the members. We need leaderships in the unions made up of a majority of working members and with officials who are servants of, not masters over, the membership. We need in this way to dissolve the trade union bureaucracy.
We can start this fight now: it means building, in every union and across the unions, a movement of the rank and file pledged to democratising the unions, and recruiting millions of unorganised workers into them, including immigrants, the young and women. It could start organising for the sort of militant action we need: strikes, occupations of workplaces, mass demonstrations and solidarity action. And it could help create a new political party fighting to get rid of the capitalist system altogether and replace it with a socialist system under the control of the working class. It could pile on the pressure to force the unions to stop giving millions to Brown’s party, and instead to call a convention to set up a party of our own.
Defying the anti-union laws
Faced with the effects of a recession and the attacks of the bosses and the government, who are trying to offload it onto our backs, we have to support every section of workers, every action of local communities, that says we will not bear this burden. Where there is strike action we should campaign to escalate it, up to and including an all-out strike – strikes that aren’t fixed at just one day but which say ‘we’re not going back until the employers meet our demands’.
The trade unions should be setting up strike funds and they should be under the democratic control of the members, organising solidarity campaigns to raise money for strikes.
For strikes to be most effective we need to organise solidarity action across the unions, if necessary defying the anti-union laws. We know solidarity action is the most effective way or winning, and that is the reason why Margaret Thatcher banned it in the 1980s when she brought in the anti-union laws. When they came to power Tony Blair and Gordon Brown made it clear to the unions and the bosses that these laws are sacrosanct. But mass defiance can win despite the laws – the police cannot arrest all the strikers! Mass action can force the government to repeal them.
This means workers need to fight not just for the Trade Union Freedom Bill proposed by leftwing Labour MP John McDonnell, which would leave much of the anti-union laws intact, but for the abolition of all the laws that ban effective trade unionism and working class activity. There should be a legal right to strike, to picket, to take solidarity action in support of other workers, not just when its technically a trade dispute but whenever we want to act in support of our interests. We need mass pickets and, if the police come to break them up, organised self-defence of our rights.
At the TUC, the top table opposed the call for a united strike against pay restraint by reminding delegates that it would be illegal. Instead of calling for defiance of the anti-democratic union laws, showing how they are used to hold our pay down by keeping us divided, they hid behind the laws, using them as an excuse for their cowardice.
But if every trade unionist had always obeyed the law, there would not be a trade union movement in the first place: the trade union movement was created by people like the Tolpuddle Martyrs who stood up and defied the anti-union laws of their day.
It is better to break the law than to break the poor. The anti-union laws should be abolished, and the best way to force them off the statute book is for millions to defy them in a huge united strike against inflation and poverty pay.
Measures to bust the capitalist crisis
The workers’ answer to below inflation pay offers and job cuts has to be to reject them outright.
All pay deals should be higher than inflation. But we shouldn’t have to strike for it every time. Pay should be automatically protected against inflation with a 1 per cent rise in pay for every 1 per cent rise in prices. We should fight for this in every contract and for this sliding scale of wages to be enshrined in law. All pensions and benefits should also be protected against inflation in a similar way.
The official inflation figure is a deception; it does not include a whole range of basic things for workers. Instead we should calculate our own workers cost of living index overseen by price control committees from our communities and organisations.
The minimum wage should be set at _8.75 an hour for everyone regardless of age, and it too should be index linked to inflation.
At the other end of society the top 10 per cent who own 85 per cent of the country’s wealth should be taxed at high rates so we ca.scrap taxes on workers wages and on sales of goods (VAT). We are for real “wealth redistribution” that eliminates not just child poverty but all poverty: taxing the rich so we can abolish shameful poverty pensions for the elderly and sweated labour for the young and migrants.
We are for a 35-hour working week as a maximum, and workers on part time hours (in the great majority women workers) should receive full-time pay rates.
In the public and private sector job losses will begin in earnest and those still in work will be made to work harder to cover the short fall. We should oppose all job losses and workplace closures. Instead of jobs being cut, the working week should be cut, as there is plenty of work to go round. Unions, from the national level down to the workplace, should enforce and supervise the reduction of hours, with no loss of pay or to the size of the workforce.
When faced with closure or mass redundancies workers should strike and occupy their workplaces, calling for them to be nationalised with no compensation to the incompetent bankrupts, and run under workers control. If the bosses cannot run their businesses properly, then they should move over and make way for those who can. Workers will have to draft a society wide plan of production to meet people’s needs not wasteful production done blind for the market.
When the bosses and their government whine that they cannot afford to pay higher wages or employ more people the answer is simple. We should demand to see their accounts. Business secrecy is what allowed profiteers like Enron to get away with fiddling the books for years. Many of these claims are just big lies but businesses that are genuinely bankrupt must be taken over by the government and run by the workers.
We need a massive programme of house building across the country – decent affordable state and local council owned property should be made available to everyone who needs it. People who own their own houses and are struggling with their mortgages need a moratorium on payments. Mortgage interest should be abolished. The mortgage lenders, building societies and housing associations need to be nationalised and brought into a housing service that ensures all a decent home for life.
The big private gas and electricity companies ripping us off should be nationalised and their mega-profits used for the people. Prices should be held down so working people don’t have to bear the burden of the oil crisis and so not one pensioner ies of cold this winter.
Life under Labour has seen a sinister drive towards the criminalisation of young people. The reason for this is twofold. In reality a large number of working class youth have not enjoyed any kind of economic boom at all. They have suffered above average unemployment, below average wages. Those encouraged into further or Higher Education do not get grants or their fees paid, like their parents’ generation, but instead are saddled with crippling debts. Priced out of night clubs, theatres and cinemas, thrown out onto the street by the closure of youth clubs and the sell off of playing fields, bored rigid by dead end jobs in retailing or call centres, the government responds with ASBOs and a media back lash against ‘hoodies.’ Whilst social deprivation drives some young people to crime, to a gang culture that can ends in serious injuries and tragic deaths, the responsibility lies with the rulers in our society, not primarily with “dysfunctional families” much less antisocial youth. Under New Labour as under the Old Tories constant moral panics are unleashed to justify increased powers for the police to harass young people, usually with a powerful racist element to it
We are for a massive investment in services for young people, free sports clubs and gyms, art and music studios, where young people can bring out their full creativity and have fun in safety. We are for a massive reduction in price for cultural activity. File sharing should be made legal so young people can access free music, books and art. Young people need to be involved in deciding what services they require and then running it democratically for themselves. Youth services and rights, decent jobs and a real future are the real antidote to anti-social behaviour, not more police powers and media headlines.
Students should not be burdened with years of debt. The Student Loan Company should be scrapped, along with all tuition fees and replaced with grants on which they can live. In short, we are for fully funded free state education for all.
We are for the right to vote at the age of 16 and for young people to organise a revolutionary youth movement under their own control to fight for their rights.
Racism and immigration
The roots of British racism lie in its pioneering role in the slave trade and then its forcible seizure and systematic plunder of vast colonies in Africa and Asia. When people from these ex-colonies, from the Caribbean, Africa, the Indian subcontinent and China came to Britain to work they were greeted with racism from the media, politicians, officials. The repeated tightening of the immigration laws, the witch hunts against illegal immigration, the building of detention camps, the deportations, are unending.
The function of this daily dose of racist demagogy is to obstruct working class unity, to set the long-term resident population against the latest arrivals. Most recently this has taken the form of a media blitz against Muslims (‘terrorists”) and asylum seekers (“bogus illegals”), which the government has institutionalised and made “respectable.” Through the conveyor belt of the Sun, the Daily Mail, the Express and others, they poison the consciousness of ordinary people making any newcomers scapegoats for the genuine ills of the capitalist system – unemployment, housing shortages and years of neglect by governments and local councils.
This takes its most violent form in the British National Party. These fascist thugs attack black and Asian people and anti-racist groups. They oppose the trade unions because they organise workers to fight for our interests whatever our race, religion or national origin. Despite posing as ‘working class’ they side with the bosses every time. Groups like the BNP and National Front should be denied a platform in every town and city and in every working class community – backing our pickets and protests with force wherever necessary.
Migrants don’t cause bad housing or cuts in hospitals and schools – they are victims of these things. The problems in our society – and most recently the economic crisis – are not caused by too many people but by capitalism. Instead of closing the borders or searching for some sort of ‘non-racist’ immigration controls, we defend the democratic right of movement for all people, regardless of race. It is a lie that Britain is over-crowded or that we are being flooded with refugees. All refugees should be welcome here. For the illegal immigrants already here we call for an amnesty and their right to remain as long as they like, with full citizenship, with no ridiculous tests or pledges of ‘allegiance.’ They have the right to defend themselves against racist and fascist attack as well as police harassment.
Down with the so-called “war on terror”
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are part of the “war on terror”, a cynical drive by the British, US and European Union capitalists to divide the world up for their profits. These occupied countries sit on or near huge oil and gas reserves, and the next intended target, Iran, does as well.
The American campaign of military threats against Russia – backed all the way by Gordon Brown – is part of the same thing: a drive to control the oil reserves of central Asia.
The working class answer is to avoid all double talk about ‘phased withdrawals’ in which the generals just redeploy the troops from one battlefield to another. We must call for troops out now. Bring all British troops home from abroad; end our involvement in NATO; no to any attack on Iran. Jobs not bombs in Britain and in Iraq and Afghanistan – not a penny and not a person for the occupations and warmongering; spend it on public services in Britain and in reparations and restoration to the countries our rulers have devastated. The vast sums the government hands over to the armaments industry, the war profiteers, will do for a start!
We must oppose foreign wars of all British governments, which are all driven solely by the struggle to control the world’s resources, whatever lies they might tell us about human rights, humanitarian missions or restoring ‘democracy’. We should support the right of the Iraqi and Afghan people to defend their countries from occupation by “our” troops. We are not frightened of the accusation of not supporting ‘our country’: this country is not yet ‘ours’ and it won’t be until the working class is in power here. Every socialist, every militant worker must support the defeat of our own ruling class in reactionary wars like these. Our enemy is at home.
And on the home front of the war on terror, racism and fear has enabled the government to pass reactionary laws which massively increase the power of government -national and local – and of the police and the secret services to spy on us, gather information on us, and arrest us and imprison us for 42 days without charge if they so wish. We call for the repeal of all these measures, the release of all prisoners that are held without charge, for no detention without trial. This assault on our rights is just a tactic to make us live in fear whilst they harass and imprison at will. This hysteria has already led in London to the brutal slaying of Jean Charles de Menezes. The extraordinary extension of police powers over recent years will be used by the state against the working class when we fight back together, just as it is used today to try to frighten people out of resisting.
Equal pay for women – and real liberation from subservience at work and at home
Twenty-eight years since the Equal Pay Act, women still earn far less on average than men. Women earn on average 17 per cent per hour less than men, and for part-time workers it’s even worse: a massive 35 per cent gap.
After decades of struggle, women workers are finally forcing the government to move on the issue. So in Birmingham the council decided to make men and women’s pay equal: by cutting men’s pay and tearing up the whole workforce’s contracts. Of course, as workers across the city realised immediately, many of the men whose wages were cut were also the breadwinners for families. Some equality, that impoverishes women as well as men!
This outrageous attack, which recently provoked massive strike action across the city, is a sign of things to come. The capitalists and their government are only interested in equality when they can use it as an excuse to save money and make the workers pay for the crisis.
The workers answer is obvious: equal pay must mean raising women’s wages so that they are the same as men’s. This is real equality.
We need to bring forward all equal pay claims and level up women’s pay through strike action across the public and private sector, linking women’s demands for justice to the overall fight against inflation and the pay cut.
Women are not just exploited at work – women workers have a double burden. The women’s liberation movement of the 1970s might have raised awareness of women’s oppression in the home, but we still do most of the housework and are still treated as sex objects by men, subjected to belittling images and routine violence. Rape remains terrifyingly common, and conviction rates for rapists are startlingly low. Our right to control our bodies is still not established in law – the right to abortion is limited and under constant scrutiny and attack.
The liberation of women from discrimination and oppression is in the interests of the whole working class. The more they can divide us on pay, the lower they can hold down wages – the more unpaid work at home they can foist onto women, the cheaper it is to pay for our labour – the more they can divide men from women, the more they can prevent us fighting as a united class.
The working class answer to the crisis is to link the fight for women’s liberation to the resistance to the bosses’ attacks today, and to the fight for a socialist society. We should fight for equal pay by levelling up women’s wages, for free abortion on demand, and for a massive job-creating expansion of free 24-hour childcare, nursery education, cleaning, laundry and cheap restaurant services, so that the burden of domestic labour can be lifted from the shoulders of exploited women and borne by society as whole.
Reclaim our environment, fight climate change
The destruction of the environment is growing every year. Emissions of greenhouses gases through burning oil and coal – in industry and through the massive expoansion of reliance on private cars – is melting the icecaps and raising sea levels. Hurricanes and floods are on the rise – everyone knows it will get much worse if emissions of carbon dioxide are not reduced.
Despite corporate ‘greenwash’, things are getting worse – climate change is threatening a catastr ophe in the decades ahead. But the capitalist system works for one purpose only: profit. They can’t reduce emissions because they can’t organise the economy around the world to meet human need – just private greed.
The answer is a massive shift away from energy based on burning fossil fuels. But that would be ‘expensive’ – which roughly translated means bosses would have to pay for it. So now the economic crisis is here, the bosses are dropping their ‘green’ plans like hot potatoes. For the sake of future generations, the workers’ can’t let them get away with it.
We should demand a massive expansion of investment in renewable energy funded by taxing the rich. We should make the big polluters pay: green taxes should be paid by the rich not the poor, based on the leve of their carbon emissions. They should not be allowed to ‘offset’ these by dirty deals where they pay to steal the carbon allowance of people in poorer countries, holding them in underdevelopment so big companies can continue to spew out CO2.
We should fight for the nationalisation of the energy companies under workers control without compensation and combine them to draw up a renewable energy plan.
There should be no expansion and reliance on nuclear or coal-fired power stations, and the unions like Unite and GMB should stop backing a third runway at Heathrow and other planned airport expansions. Instead we should demand redeployment of workers in environmentally unsustainable production, on equal pay and conditions, under trade union control. And there should be a massive expansion of jobs not at coal or nuclear power stations and airports, but in alternative energy, in rail, in building flood defences and affordable homes, and in clean-up programmes to repair the damage caused by the corporate polluters.
For a planned economy to meet the needs of the many not the profit of the few
In early 1980s Britain joined the dictator Pinochet’s Chile as a live experiment for the bosses’ policy of neoliberalism, then called monetarism, here known as Thatcherism. This meant selling off of most of the social housing stock, privatising whole industries like gas and telecommunications, freeing the City of London from all serious controls, massive closures (“downsizing”) and shifting jobs to countries with low wages and weak democratic and union rights (“offshoring”). Then under New Labour the market was introduced into education, the health service and local government. The introduction of the market to every corner of our lives was meant to bring great improvements. Yet even the government has to admit that the gap between rich and poor has grown over the last decade.
This market madness is what has led us to the current crisis. But there is no point just going back to the old state run companies of yesteryear like British Rail and the Coal Board. That type of state ownership was not some kind of socialism but simply state-owned capitalism, and it was very bureaucratically run in the interests of big business.
Today we need to fight to remove the market from society and replace it with a democratic plan. We should renationalise transport, gas and electricity, the phones, TV and internet companies, but we should run them democratically under workers’ control.
We need a radical new vision of how our society can be run, where the people who work in and use the industry can make the decisions. We need a democratic plan of society, but we do not have to wait until we take control of the entire state and the economy to start the struggle for it. We can fight now for measures that systematically remove the market and replace it with rational and comprehensive planning. This way we can remove the corporate greed and begin to run society for human need.
So, all privatisations since Thatcher must be reversed, we must nationalise all the energy companies and the oil companies without compensation to private owners. Their surplus must be ploughed back into society to pay for services, pensions and amenities.
No one must make a profit from education and our health. Hospitals and the NHS, down to the last bolt and screw in the hospitals, should be totally nationalised, along with drug companies and medical suppliers. No compensation should be paid to the privateers. Schools should be taken out of the hands of the City Academy programme, and if rich people are so desperate to contribute to our children’s education, then they can do it in the form of higher taxation, not by owning schools and running them for profit.
Why are ticket prices going up so much on the railways? Because the market is driving them up whilst the shareholders of the franchises make a mint. We need to re-nationalise the rail and bus companies under workers’ control.
There should be a socialist plan to decide the workload and allocate hours accordingly. There should be a monopoly on foreign trade through the state. This way we can ensure that the profit from what Britain produces comes back to the ordinary people and not into the pockets of capitalists and their shareholders.
All the major banks and financial institutions must be taken out of the hands of the financiers. The banks should be nationalised without compensation and merged into a single state bank that channels investment where the working class thinks it can be used best. Instead of pushing a culture of debt that loads some of the poorest people with impossible payments, instead of chasing around the world for the quickest profit causing untold havoc in the process, instead of lining the pockets of wideboys with million pound bonuses and driving whole communities into the dirt, the state bank would be an instrument for a rational organisation of society, connecting wants to needs according to a democratic plan.
The Workers Government
But how can we really make these changes? A Labour government, as millions of workers now realise, is not a workers’ government. It promotes the anti-working class policies the bosses want, it launches their imperialist wars, it defends their police and military surveillance and repression, protects and makes use of the anti-union laws, slashes our services and strips away democratic rights. In all practical matters it is a capitalist government.
Nor is the British state neutral. The civil service, the judges, the top officials, generals and security chiefs do not arbitrate impartially between the workers and the employers, between the rich and the poor. The state – with all the force of the courts, the police and, if need be, the army – protects the status quo, the property and rule of the capitalists. In the intense class battles of the 1970s and 80s such as the great year long miners’ strike of 1984, strikers were ridden down by horses, battoned, arrested and even killed. Rampaging gangs in blue trashed their communities. On the other hand the state never arrested a single boss for depriving millions of men and women and their families of their living.
The question is, how to replace this capitalist state with a state that does defend the interests of the working people – the overwhelming majority – against a tiny parasitical minority? In the past many people would have said that most painless solution was to vote Labour, as a party which claimed to represent trade unionists and socialism. Maybe, they argued, pressure on it from the trade unions could bring about important reforms if not “socialism.” But experience has taught otherwise.
If we want a workers government we will have to create it ourselves, from our own mass actions, with our own democracy. It cannot come just by quietly voting once every five years for uncontrollable MPs sent to parliament in Westminster. The British parliament has proved itself time and again a farcical mockery of “the rule of the people”, since once elected it does what the capitalist class wants, even in the face of mass opposition to its policies. Look at the war in Iraq for proof of how democratic our government is. The majority opposed it and two million marched against it. They did it anyway. In the end they do what the oil companies and the military machine wants, not the other way around.
Of course as long as capitalism exists the working class should demand more democracy within the system. We should always be trying to force the capitalists to give us more rights and they will resist us every step of the way. We only have the right to vote because of the great struggles of the Chartists and the Suffragettes. We have to continue the fight for our rights today. So we should fight for proportional representation in all elections and short fixed term parliaments, for the abolition of the monarchy and House of Lords. Members of parliament should be answerable to local mass meetings of their constituents and should be instantly recallable if a majority of their electorate desire it at any time. We should fight for all judges to be elected. We should defend the right of the Scottish and Welsh people to independence if they wish, and the right of the Irish people to a united Ireland free of British troops.
But there is no way the capitalists are going to agree to this of their own free will – no matter how many people voted for it. A real workers government can’t come about through a process of democratic reforms from above; it can only arise out of mass workers’ struggles – of great events like a general strike – that put the question of power, of who really rules in society, point blank.
This is where workers’ councils become central. In all periods of generalised class struggle like we see in a period of recession, local assemblies need to be created by the workers and young people who are in struggle against the government. Initially they may start out simply as support committees around particular campaigns or political issues, but in many ways they represent a real way to change society for the better, by creating democratic forums that allow people to directly discuss and decide how society should be run, not simply through the ballot box every so often. At high points they can become councils of action, with delegates from every workplace and community. The key thing is that these delegates can be recallable, so if they fail to do what the people who voted for them wanted, then they can be recalled. This means the will of the workers can’t be blocked by a narrow layer of officials like the British trade union leaders today.
Workers’ councils arise in revolutionary times, like in Britain in the general strike, in Russia during the revolution, in Bolivia today where the masses are fighting for control of society. They are set up at times when the level of class struggle rises so that the question of political power is posed, often linked to the creation of defence squads for the workers movement against repression by the capitalists. The need of the citizens to defend themselves always arises when the state resorts to force to break them. Neither workers defence squads nor workers’ councils can be conjured out of thin air or as a ‘good idea’. But embryos of them arise in the course of the struggle. They need to be consciously developed into instruments of working class power.
A workers’ government would be based on workers’ councils and a workers’ defence force. It would systematically take over the key levers of the economy and establish a socialist plan of production. The economy would be run for need not private greed. Every labour saving device could reduce the working day and raise productivity. By renouncing all the British capitalists’ imperialist claims on foreign countries, by handing ownership of ‘our’ multinational companies’ operations in these countries to the workers around the world, by cancelling the debt owed by Third World countries to British banks, by publishing the secret treaties and deals our military establishment have done with the USA and other regimes, we would make allies of the hundreds of millions of working people across the globe. We would work to spread the workers’ revolution and socialism, aiming for the creation of a socialist federation of working class states and a socialist future for the peoples of the world.
We need a revolution…
Why? Because the rich and the powerful will not allow us to implement even one of our major demands without a struggle. What they have done in Iraq shows they are tigers who will not let their claws be pulled by peaceful means. They will resort to violence first but we must be ready to counter that violence by mass force. That is the only way we can enforce the seizure of the capitalists property and the destruction of their apparatus of repression, which taken together would mean the end of the capitalist system.
In the end parliament is only one part of the power of the British capitalist class and not the essential one. It is a democratic façade for a hidden dictatorship. The real decisions are made in the general staff of the army, the boardrooms of the multinationals, in the private networks of the rich and powerful. As long as this power is left unchallenged by any government then it cannot hope to radically alter the balance of power in our society.
In the end the police, who serve the interests of the powers-that-be, will need to be disbanded as an organisation and replaced with a people’s militia. The failure to do this is what has destroyed progressive movements and well intentioned governments in the past, for instance in Chile in 1973, or Spain in 1936.
But what about the army, which our rulers would certainly have recourse to when the decisive moment comes? The road to revolution must draw in the soldiers too. Ordinary soldiers in the army need rights and we must fight for them. They need the right to organise, to practise democracy, to elect their officers and refuse to follow orders if they are aimed against the interests of the mass of the people. Ultimately we are for the dissolution of the army into an armed people, a popular militia to defend working people against counter-revolution and violence by reactionary elements. Instead of a Royal Army swearing allegiance to the Queen, under the discipline and control of ruling class generals we would have a people’s army of the working class.
We need a new party
None of these things can be achieved without the creation of a new working class party, one that is prepared to struggle for power. Workers and young people must organise to build this party from the bottom up, as well as calling on the few remaining left wing Labour MPs and the militant trade union leaders to put their names to it. The new party must be rooted in the unions, in workplaces and in working class communities. Mass meetings and discussions need to take place to agree its programme, what it is fighting for. All socialists, all revolutionaries should argue for it to have a revolutionary programme, one that links our ongoing daily struggles to measures which challenge the profit motive and the market madness of capitalism. One that directs struggles for workers’ control in the factory or the office into a general struggle for working class power, for a revolutionary workers’ government.
Around the world, workers are discovering that the old parties, the Labour, socialist and Communist parties, have given up the fight for the working class and are doing the business of the capitalists. Left wing splits and new parties are being formed in France, Germany, Austria, Brazil, Sri Lanka and beyond. These forces need to be rallied to the fight for workers’ revolution and a programme to win it. Together we could form a new International, a world party of the workers. That way we can fight the multinational capitalists, stop them dividing us, oppose their bloody wars and set out a vision of a different world based on co-operation not the madness of the market.
The Workers Power group is fighting for that in Britain, arm in arm with our sister organisations in Austria, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Sweden. We appeal to all workers and youth who support what we are saying to join us.