Our bosses, and the governments which serve them, are determined not to waste the economic crisis. They want to use it as cover for driving down social costs, freezing wages, cutting jobs, so that when the economy revives profits will be higher.
The “austerity” (cuts and anti-working class measures) imposed by the Coalition are part of a comprehensive project to reorganise and reshape society so it better serves the interests of the rich.
That project is more than the sum of its parts. It is not simply an accumulation of individual attacks that we can attempt to fend off, one at a time. It is a social strategy, a plan.
Wage freezes, like the public sector pay freeze currently in place and which Labour has committed to continue, help bosses claw back money from their employees’ pockets. Other cost-cutting measures, like the spate of closures of final salary pension schemes across the private sector, do likewise.
The government’s attacks are designed not only to screw down social costs but to cripple our ability to fight back, not just in the here and now but for the foreseeable future. Schemes like the McNulty reforms on the railway — which propose driver-only operation for trains — are designed to break the power of trade unions in key sectors of the economy. Attacks on facility time in the public sector have a similar motivation.
Welfare cuts and attacks on the health service mean than working-class people are paying, with our wellbeing and sometimes with our lives, for a financial crisis created entirely by the market-worship and greed of the rich.
The response of the labour and anti-cuts movement must be more than the sum of its parts, too. Our strategy has to involve more than reacting to the latest attack and desperately trying to defend the status quo. Just as the Tories, Lib Dems, and Labour leader have their plans for reorganising society to better serve the rich, we need a plan for reorganising society so the vast wealth and productive capacity that exists can be made to serve human need.
We need a workers’ plan for the crisis: a set of working-class policies and strategies to force the ruling class to concede and, go beyond that, to fight for a workers’ government — a government that will govern in the interests of our class in the same way Cameron and Clegg govern in the interests of theirs.
A workers’ plan is not a shopping list of nice things we wish would happen. It starts from the struggles of workers now, and tries to sum up the logic of those struggles as demands that are aimed both at winning victories in the immediate term but also at posing the question of power: which interests should predominate in society? The “interests” of capital and its markets, or the interests of human and ecological need?
Our workers’ plan is not a once-and-for-all, too-precious-to-be-amended text, but an attempt to help the labour movement develop a political alternative to the Coalition’s austerity project. It is something that AWL members want to fight for but also discuss and debate with comrades in trade unions, community campaigns, student unions. We would hope those organisations can campaign around elements of a workers’ plan. We see it as part of the struggle to transform the working-class movement as a whole into a democratic, confident, and assertive movement that is fit to rule.
The 20 October demonstration is — should be, could be — a staging post in that struggle.
No cuts to jobs and services
We need a massive campaign of industrial and political action against the cuts, starting now, not at some point in the future after the TUC demo.
Struggles must be fought around clear demands, and fought to win — not simply to express displeasure at some already-taken action of the bosses or government.
The precise focus and demands of industrial campaigns will vary from sector to sector, but the principles must be universal: not a single job loss, not a single cut to services.
Expropriate the banks, tax the rich: use the wealth to create jobs and rebuild services
The Coalition’s “there’s-no-money-left” mantra is nonsense.
The richest 1,000 individuals in Britain have a combined wealth of £414 billion, nearly four times the amount of the total budget deficit. The rich have become richer during the crisis; 2010-2011 the 1,000 richest increased their wealth by £77 billion. A 50% “super-tax” on the income of the top 1% in Britain would immediately balance the budget without needing to increase taxes for the other 99% at all.
Banks are still making huge profits — in 2011, HSBC made £13.8 billion profit, and Barclays made £5.9 billion. Their wealth should be seized, without compensation, and the entire banking sector placed under democratic public ownership. Its huge wealth could then be democratically distributed to meet social need — to create jobs and rebuild public services.
Rebuild the National Health Service
Even at its most bureaucratised and cuts-damaged, the NHS represented an island of a saner, more rational way of organising society carved out of the inhumanity and chaos of capitalism.
The Health and Social Care Act is a huge blow to working-class living standards. Every further cut, privatisation, and sell-off must be resisted industrially and politically, and the unions must launch a high-profile campaign to rebuild public healthcare, not just to pre-Coalition levels but also by abolishing the PFI schemes and part privatisations introduced under New Labour.
The NHS should provide top-quality healthcare for all, free at the point of need. Hospitals, clinics, and other facilities should be run as public services under the democratic control of workers and service users, not run by unaccountable managers and consultants. Unions should fight for the Labour Party to act on its policy, passed at its 2012 conference, to rebuild the NHS, and demand that is campaigned on now as well as being included in the 2015 manifesto.
Living wages, and living benefits, for all
The minimum wage has institutionalised low pay for hundreds of thousands of workers.
Its tiers create inbuilt age discrimination, meaning that a 19-year old worker can be paid less than a 21-year old worker for doing the same job. Its apprentice rate is just £2.65. The minimum wage should be replaced with a universal living wage that represents enough to live a full and decent life, not just enough to scrape by on. Unions should calculate their own “living wage” figures. Similarly the state should a guarantee a living income for those out of work, or unable to work.
Create socially-useful jobs, cut the working week
A super-tax on the wealth of the rich and the expropriation of the banks would free up the wealth to fund a huge job-creation scheme.
The jobs that are created should be in socially-useful industries (transport, healthcare, renewable energy, etc.) and should involve enjoyable, stimulating work, not alienating drudgery. Any companies declaring lay-offs should be taken into public ownership.
The working week across the economy should be cut to a maximum of 35 hours to share out work and maximise the time working-class people get to spend outside of work.
A generation of working-class young people are being priced out of further and higher education by the abolition of EMAs and huge increases in university fees.
At primary and secondary levels, the proliferation of Academies and Free Schools is turning education into a business rather than a public service. Fees at all levels should be abolished and replaced with living grants for all students in post-16 education. Universities should end cuts and course closures, and raise funds by cutting top bosses’ pay.
Education should be rebuilt as a space for people to develop as critical, creative individuals; schools, colleges and universities shouldn’t be training grounds for the unthinking, obedient workers of tomorrow. That means getting the “employability” agenda out of education, and ending big business control and influence over curricula and research. Support the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts — build student-worker unity in struggle.
Decent housing for all
Housing is a basic human right.
End evictions and social cleansing. A mass programme of council house building would provide both housing and jobs, and should be democratically planned locally to meet need. Housing stock hived off to social landlords or ALMOs by local councils should be reclaimed. The empty second (and third, and fourth) homes of the rich should be expropriated and converted into affordable housing. End evictions and attacks on Travellers and Roma people; guarantee protected sites for Traveller and Roma communities.
Free the unions
Tony Blair once boasted that Britain’s labour laws are “the most restrictive in Western Europe”.
The anti-union laws should be abolished and replaced with a positive charter of workers’ rights, including the right to hold workplace ballots, the right to picket effectively, and the right to take solidarity action.
Open the books
Workers need access to all company accounts.
That way, we can challenge the bosses’ version of what is and is not “affordable” and determine how to solve the crisis on our terms.
Fight racism and the causes of racism. End immigration controls, for workers’ solidarity across borders
Although the BNP has been set back electorally, far-right and fascist ideas are still growing in society, feeding on the despair and alienation created by the crisis.
The workers’ movement must resist the BNP, EDL, and other far-right organisations wherever they appear — not just by holding polite counter-rallies addressed by mainstream politicians that celebrate the status quo, but by organising to physically confront the fascists in the street and preventing them from gaining a foothold in our communities.
Attempts to set workers against each other — white against black, British-born against migrant — help the bosses keep us weak. Immigration controls should be scrapped to guarantee freedom of movement. If the wealth workers create is free to travel across borders uninhibited, workers should be able to live wherever we like too.
The crisis is international, and as governments across Europe and international financial institutions collude to impose severe austerity measures on the collapsing economies of Greece and Spain, the tendency of the ruling class to collaborate across borders is made clear. We have to match their unity with a greater unity of our own, acting in solidarity with the struggles of workers across the world, and taking united action where possible.
Extend democracy, defend civil liberties. Curb the power of the police
Having the opportunity to vote, once every five years, for one of three political parties whose leaders share a neo-liberal consensus, while we have no say whatsoever in the political and economic decisions they take every day that hugely affect our lives, is not a full democracy.
Parliaments should be annual, with all MPs immediately recallable. Political representatives should be paid an average workers’ wage.
Meanwhile, the assault on basic democratic freedoms must be pushed back. For the right to protest, and an end to “kettling”. Abolish the Territorial Support Group and Forward Intelligence Teams; disarm the cops. End racist harassment and stop and search. Justice for the families of victims of police brutality. For genuine accountability over the police, not the meaningless sham of elected “Police Commissioners”.
Resist the offensive against free speech — no-one should be jailed for stupid and distasteful statements on a Facebook status.
Transform the unions
To make our unions capable of organising the necessary action, we need rank-and-file networks in every industry and union, giving a space for workers to organise independently of union bureaucracies, to push the unions into action and — where necessary — to act independently.
Rank-and-file networks should fight for all disputes to be controlled and directed by democratically-elected strike committees, made up of workers involved, and for sustained industrial action to be financed by strike pay. All union officials with a role in the unions’ activity should be elected, and union officials should be paid no more than a worker’s wage. Use union funds to support strikes and finance organising campaigns in unorganised workplaces.
We need proper industrial unions — there is no reason for teachers to be in a different union from teaching assistants or the workers who clean their classrooms. Build cross-union shop stewards’ committees in every workplace with multiple unions as a step towards industrial unionism.
For working-class political representation
The working-class movement, and immediately the organised labour movement in workplaces, needs a political wing through which it can represent itself in the political sphere, including in Parliament.
The labour movement’s current political wing — the Labour Party — is woefully inadequate. Its structures are hollowed out, and its leaders are committed to maintaining the neo-liberal consensus. Getting the affiliated unions (which represent a majority of organised workers in Britain) to assert themselves against the Labour leaders within Labour Party structures is the first step to winning independent working-class representation.
This means fighting to restore Labour Party democracy, demanding Labour councillors refuse to make cuts and vote against cuts budgets, and initiating de-selection processes for Labour councillors and MPs that push through cuts.
Fight for a workers' government!
Capitalist governments ultimately concede workers’ demands when they are scared of the alternative to not conceding them. That means that big victories can have a dual character — concessions forced from governments, but also a means by which governments save themselves from a worse fate.
The demands and policies in this workers’ plan are not intended to be unrealisable fantasies. They are intended to be winnable demands, struggles within which we can develop the confidence to fight not just for reforms but for power.
But anything we win is unstable unless the working class is able to conquer social power. Agitation and campaigning around a workers’ plan has to be accompanied with agitation for the idea of a workers’ government — a government based on and responsive to the needs and interests of our class, just as the current government is based on and responsive to the needs of the rich.
A workers’ government would impose policies to serve the working-class majority without concern for their potential impact on bosses’ profits. It would rely for its power not on the feeble democracy of Parliament but on an extra-parliamentary movement of working-class organisations in workplaces and communities.
Any possible workers’ government in Britain would involve some elements of the Labour Party, but could only take power on the back of struggles so wide-ranging that they would shake up (and, in all likelihood, break up) the current Labour Party to such a degree as to render it unrecognisable.
Ultimately, a workers’ government would have to culminate in the working class smashing the capitalist state machine in the clean sweep of revolution or it would fall. But fighting immediately for working-class government is part of the process by which we can help a majority of our class develop the consciousness and confidence to take that revolutionary step.
The Tories, Lib Dems, and New Labour leaders’ austerity agenda is a plan for consolidating the power of the rich. Their governments are of the rich, by the rich, for the rich. The workers’ government is our alternative.