Prepare for class war!

Submitted by martin on 23 June, 2010 - 5:06 Author: Editorial
Cuts

The first Budget of the Tory-Liberal government has staked out the ground for an enormous assault on the working class in the period ahead - on our living standards and, maybe, on our remaining trade-union rights.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) dotted the i here by proposing tighter anti-union laws to quell any working-class revolt. The Budget itself began the assault. More will be spelled out in the autumn.

The Budget plan is harsher than the measures of the Thatcher government 30 years ago. £82 billion of cuts in annual public spending. A wage freeze for six million public-sector workers: with inflation steadily if unspectacularly rising, that is a pay cut.

Two items in this Budget sum up its vicious class character. Corporation tax is to be reduced by 4% over four years. VAT on everything has been raised by 17.5% to 20%.

VAT hits at everyone buying goods and services, and takes a bigger slice from the poorest than from the rich.

The Budget amounts to a big cut in the standards of living of the poorest people in Britain. It is also a job cut. Hundreds of thousands of public sector jobs will go.

None of the window-dressing measures to con people into thinking this is a "fair" Budget, such as an increase in capital gains tax, change the balance.

It was a grim joke when prime minister Cameron, in the House of Commons, described this Budget as a "progressive budget". It is a "progressive" long-term assault on the working class.

None of this was put to the electorate on 6 May - only the general idea that there would be cuts.

The Tories denied that they would raise VAT. The Lib Dems denounced the Tories for hiding plans to raise VAT, and pledged themselves to fight it when the Tories tried to introduce a VAT rise.

In the House of Commons Tory Chancellor Osborne was flanked on both sides by smug-looking Lib Dems. Cameron, invisible for the TV camera most of the time, sat directly behind Osborne.

The TV picture of Osborne and the people round him - of rich, privileged, smug ex public schoolboys, at least three of whom are millionaires - sums up the state of things in Britain now. This is government by the rich, for the rich!

It is a government without a mandate to do what it is doing and going to do. The Tories won more parliamentary seats than any other party, but they did not win a majority. They did not, except by default, win the general election.

It was an example of the hollowenss of British bourgeois democracy that in the general election all parties talked of the necessity of big cuts, and no party spelled out even the outline of where they would cut.

The Lib Dems campaigned in the election against what they are now helping the Tories to push through. The Labour Party campaigned in the election on a policy of cuts, but less severe cuts, more tax rises, and a slower tempo of cutting the deficit than the Tories demanded.

Between them Labour and the Lib Dems won the majority of votes against what the Government is now doing. The fact that in return for 22 government jobs the Lib Dems are now helping the Tories does not and cannot give electoral legitimacy to what the government is doing.

The government says that the cuts are "unavoidable", that they act under compulsion of the gravity of the economic situation. The Lib Dems give that as a reason for ratting on the electorate.

In fact, as Harriet Harman said in the House of Commons, the cuts plan is what the Tories want to do. They are driven by ideology, not economics.

Resistance to this government is not only necessary for the working class, but also entirely democratic.

The labour movement must respond in kind to the gathering assault by this government of millionaires which, above all, serves the interests of the rich. The labour movement must do what workers in Greece have done: mobilise, agitate, demonstrate, refuse to let the Tory-Liberal coalition do what it wants to do.

The proper answer to the atrocity of raising VAT by two and a half per cent is to fight for wage rises.

All talk of "fairness" is lying propaganda. Wages and benefits lost, through wage freezes or benefit cuts, are gone forever. Time spent unemployed, in absolute or relative poverty, is gouged out of the lives of those on whom it is inflicted. The lives of young people unable to get a job after leaving school or college are warped by the experience.

Even if capital gains tax were very severe - and, even with the increase, it is far from that - what would be lost by the rich through capital gains tax is simply not equivalent to what working-class households will lose. In fact, of course, the rich have "creative" accountants to help them evade taxes. All taxes, this capital gains tax increase too.

But is the labour movement in any state to resist the government? Yes, it is!

The unions in the TUC organise over six million trade unionists. The French labour movement has confronted governments and organised successful general strikes when it has had two million or fewer workers organised in unions.

The CBI expects and fears labour movement resistance. That is why it urged the government to tighten the laws against effective trade-unionism, demanding that industrial action ballots must win 40% of the balloted workforce as well as a majority of those voting. The government has said no to this; but no serious trade-unionist will rely on the government to keep its word.

The working-class resistance that the CBI fears is what class-conscious workers should hope for, and do everything we can to foment and organise. Defeatism here would be a crime against the working class.

The working-class movement will not know what is possible until it mobilises for resistance. The old labour-movement guideline applies here: "get stuck in and then we'll see!"

In any case, what is imperative for socialists now is to help prepare the labour movement to fight back, not immobilise ourselves with defeatism rooted in platonic speculation.

Of course it is true that the labour movement is not in the best shape as we face the challenge of the most militantly class-struggle government since Thatcher came to power in 1979.

For the thirteen years of New Labour government the labour movement was largely paralysed. One reason for that was that those were mostly years of general prosperity and capitalist boom, especially a "boom" in the public sector where the unions have most members. The labour movement did not then feel the pressure it will now feel to fight the government.

Another reason for paralysis was the wretched quality of trade-union leadership. Now the Lib-Tory assault, codified in the Budget and with cuts to be spelled out in the autumn, leaves the labour movement a lot less wriggle-room.

For thirteen years the government of New Labour, a party still largely financed by the trade unions, was a neo-Thatcherite government.

Even so, in the general election the Labour Party was the only governmental alternative to Tory or Lib-Tory government. It is the only governmental alternative now.

One of the surprising things in the general election was that prime minister Brown rallied some of Labour's lost support by warning against the Tory cuts that are now under way. Brown, the rich-worshipping New Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer for ten years!

Labour is now opposing the "Tory cuts". Acting Labour leader Harriet Harman made what was - considering who and what she is, and has been for the last 13 years - a good-ish speech in the House of Commons in response to the Budget.

Labour had already proposed, and if in power now would carry out, severe cuts - cuts to the extent of 60% of the Tory cuts. (Labour planned smaller, slower deficit reductions, with tax rises doing more of the reduction). There is, and cannot but be, a great measure of hypocrisy when former New Labour ministers oppose cuts.

Yet it is the speeches in opposition to the Tories and Lib Dems that the labour movement will hear, and may be encouraged to resist by. Enough old Labour voters heard and believed Brown's warnings against the Tory cuts plans - and remembered what the Tories had done in the 1980s, or what they had heard of those days - to prevent the crushing defeat or even electoral meltdown to which Labour seemed to be doomed only a few months earlier.

Labour and TUC condemnations of the cuts - whether or not people like Harman are hypocrites - will help rouse labour movement opposition and resistance.

In fact it is not just a matter of hypocrisy. Before and especially during the general election, a real distinction emerged between Labour and Tory policy. The difference between Labour and Tory on the severity and tempo of cuts has enormous practical implications, not only in the lives of working-class people, but on the whole economic sistuation.

The Financial Times page one headline on the Budget - "Kill-or-cure Budget" - summed that up. The Tory cuts may trigger or give extra force to a new instalment of slump.

What does the labour movement need to do? The unions must prepare to fight back, and prepare also to fight in defence of those workers, in the public sector, targeted first by the government. Big public meetings should be organised all over the country to explain the significance of the Lib-Tory assault.

The Lib-Tory plan is a gradual one. The cuts will escalate from year to year, reaching a peak only in 2015. We do not and cannot know in advance how soon we will reach the point where those cuts trigger mass resistance. But we know that the quicker that happens, the better; and the energy and effort of activists now will make a difference.

Politically, the trade unions need to break with the Blair-Brown gang of ex-ministers. These people - all of them without exception - have dirty hands. Nobody should have any confidence in them.

All the candidates for Labour leader, save Diane Abbott, were in the Blair-Brown governments. They were complicit in everything Blair and Brown did. They supported the Iraq war. They actively backed Blair and Brown when they reduced the Labour Party to a more or less empty shell. None of them raised even a squeak of protest about New Labour keeping the Tory anti-union laws - the laws on which the Lib-Tory government may now erect further restrictions of trade unionism.

The unions should move now to restore or create the structures that will make the Labour Party a living party of rank and file activists once again. In the review of Labour Party structure opening this October, this must mean, above all, winning the right for Labour Party conference to debate democratically and decide Labour policy. The rank and file of unions and the Labour Party alike must demand that.

Labour-controlled councils will be tasked with implementing many of the Tory-Liberal cuts. They should refuse to do that. The unions should insist that they refuse.

The labour movement is now faced with the need to fight against the Tory-Lib-Dem government. What should it fight for?

The labour movement needs to set itself the task of creating, not a new New Labour government, but a workers' government! A government that, minimally at least, serves the working people as this government is serving, and the New Labour government served, the bourgeoisie.

A government that confronts the capitalists and the capitalist system, and that aims to replace capitalism with a working-class social and economic system.

We are a long way from that? Indeed. Right now it is a matter of educational work in the labour movement for these aims.

Faced with what we are now faced with, from the coalition government, many workers will begin to question the capitalist system. It is the job of socialists to help them understand what is wrong with the system and what can, if enough people want it, replace it - socialism.

It falls to the Marxist left to educate a new layer of working-class socialists in the fire of the class struggle that may now ignite.

The Marxist left itself is in a bad condition for doing that. It is split up into sects. Much of the would-be Marxist left is seriously disoriented.

Yet turnings in the road such as that made at the general election can create the conditions for political regroupment. The new dividing line on the Marxist left now is drawn by the need to prepare the broad labour movement for the fightback and to help it in the fightback.

Dialogue on the present situation, and on prospects and perspectives for the class struggle, is now both possible and necessary, on the left and the would-be left.

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