The TUC-called demonstration was the biggest show of working-class strength in the recent history of the labour movement. In itself, it is not enough. But it is a beginning.
The important thing about Labour Party leader Ed Miliband’s presence on the Trade Union Congress platform was not the mealy-mouthed and inadequate character of the speech he delivered there, but the fact that he was there at all. It is many a long day since something like that has happened. Blair wouldn’t have been there, and neither would Gordon Brown.
The situation the working class faces now is stark and simple. British capitalism, like world capitalism, is experiencing a convulsive economic crisis. The likelihood that the crisis will grow deeper and more prolonged seems to be increasing. To solve their difficuties, the capitalists want to make the working class pay the cost. They are cutting and squeezing wages, conditions and social entitlements.
The choice the working class faces is also stark and clear: resist, or be forced to pay for getting the ruling class out of the mess which they, with their greedy, reckless, remorseless pursuit of profit, have got us into. The March 26 demo showed that there is a real working-class appetite for a fightback.
WALK ON TWO LEGS, INDUSTRIAL AND POLITICAL
Our immediate strength now is in workplaces. There we can fight directly and immediately, section-by-section or, better, in a united, union-wide or cross-union fight.
But we need to walk on two legs, the industrial and the political. This fight against the Tories and Lib Dems is now primarily a political fight. It cannot be adequately waged other than as a political, a society-wide, fight (combined with, backed by or culminating in, industrial direct action).
To fight the bosses’ government, we must have a governmental alternative to the coalition. Between now and the labour movement being in possession of such an alternative, there is politically and industrially, a long way to go.
But a fight for what? Minimally, to stop them forcing us to pay for their crisis. And beyond that? We need a workers’ government! A government that stands towards the working class as Clegg and Cameron stand to the ruling class of which they are a part. A government that will serve our interests as the coalition serves the bosses’. That will make the bankers and the other fat-cat capitalists pay, not the working people. That will begin to take control of industry, transport, banking and communications.
There are very great difficulties in the way of our doing that, as Saturday’s march, which showed that people want to fight, also demonstrated.
REORGANISE AND RE-ORIENT THE LABOUR MOVEMENT
We need to force the trade union leaders to fight now. We need to create, re-create, a working-class political, trade union based, mass political party.
On a certain level, the Labour Party used to be that. It is not that now. It is still financed by the unions, but since the Blair-Brown “New Labour” coup in 1994, which was carried out with the active support of the then-trade union leaders, and impossible without that support, it has functioned as a neo-Thatcherite party. For 13 of those years it was in government.
It did various bits of more-or-less important redistribution of wealth in the interests of the poor. But in political, class, terms the measure of Blair and Brown is that they did not even rescind Thatcher’s early 1980s anti-union laws (which outlaw solidarity strikes). The measure of the two generations of trade union leaders in control of the bedrock labour movement, the trade unions, over that time, is that they did not insist on their repeal.
To consolidate their power inthe labour movement, the New Labour leaders, and their trade union backers destroyed or silted up the procedures and membership structures that had allowed the Labour Party to function as a forum and platform for trade unionists in politics. What can we do now?
In the present situation, the unions need urgently to reclaim and reconstruct the Labour Party, within whose structures the unions still carry immense weight, as well as being the party’s chief financiers.
We need to organise an effective class-struggle left to fight in the broad labour movement for class struggle policies. And, of course, we fight to build industrial solidarity action for any section of the labour movement in conflict with the government and the employers, that fights to ensure that no section of the working class is allowed to fight alone.
The high point of such a developing working-class fightback might be a general strike — either for a day, to muster and test our strength, an open-ended strike until we had won a specific limited demand, or an all-out strike that would be part of a labour movement offensive to win a workers’ government, and settle with the bosses once and for all.
Saturday’s demonstration gives us a sharply-focussed picture of the state of things now. The mass of the demonstrators react as traditional labour movement “anti-Tories”, without any very clear notion of what, positively, needs to be done. The trade union leaders are timid and cautious, and probably wishing that the Tories would be more “reasonable” and not force them into a corner, leaving them with no choice but to talk an anti-Tory fight.
THE WOULD-BE REVOLUTIONARY LEFT
Anarchists on the fringes, rightly impatient with the leaders of the labour movement, acting as if they think the capitalist system can be either changed or brought down by a small minority of brave young women and men attacking a few shops in central London.
Their numbers will have been swelled by the feeling that the labour movement doesn’t offer a credible political alternative to the government or capitalism. They will have been swelled too by the disgusting spectacle of the May 2010 General Election and its aftermath, in which the coalition is ignoring the expressed will of the electorate, which is against what they are currently doing.
And there was the “ Marxist revolutionary left”, primarily the Socialist Workers’ Party and the Socialist Party, calling, or seemingly calling, for immediate general strike. But when you read the SP’s small print, you twig that they are actually calling for a one-day public sector general strike. And the SWP call for a general strike on their placards and in their slogans only. Both of these organisations are demagogic, unserious and above all irresponsible.
The labour movement right now is not ready for such action. There is general alarm in the labour movement at the Coalition's policies and plans. But as yet there is no urgent focus in the class struggle that would allow such a call now to make some sense, even if people did not believe they were fully ready for it.
Seemingly militant talk of General strike has in the past sometimes functioned to disguise lack of confidence in sections of the working class (and of the demagogic would-be left!). It can mean: without a general strike, we can't do anything, we can't move, we can't take sectional action.It has also been used by trade union leaders as an excuse for their own do-nothing policy.
ANTI-TORYISM IS NOT ENOUGH
“Anti-Toryism” and “anti-Lib Demism” is the beginning of political wisdom right now. But even so, it isn’t much wisdom. It will in the period ahead become the common wisdom of the vague left, of uneasy trade union leaders, of careerist would-be Labour MPs, and of workers NEWLY militant, who who haven’t had a chance to think too much about politics. It is the line of least resistance. Socialists can and should use it with newly-arousing people. But we must also explain to them its limits, and its demagogic misuse.
In the past, vague anti-Toryism has served to camouflage the de-facto Toryism of the Labour, supposed “alternative” to the Tories in power — most recently in 1997. We need to get the labour movement to discuss and understand what an acceptable working-class alternative to the Tories would be.
This happened in the mid-1980s and in the early 1990s, when in the broad labour movement "anti-Toryism" drove out all thought of the need for a working-class alternative to the Tories. We must not let it happen again. Right now the Labour Party is the up-front alternative to the Tories. It is essential that socialists, sharing the widespread “anti-Toryism”, explain the need for a socialist alternative, and the need for a workers’ government. In this situation, the educational work of Solidarity and Workers’ Liberty is irreplaceable.
WHAT SOLIDARITY AND WORKERS' LIBERTY BELIEVES
Workers’ Liberty and Solidarity are dedicated to the following basic propositions:
• That capitalism is a system of exploitation of the vast majority by a small class who own the means of production. The capitalists use their ownership of the means of production to extract and store up wealth for themselves, not hesitating, for example, to put millions of people on the dole if it is necessary for that purpose.
• That a progressive alternative to capitalism is possible — socialism, a socialist society, in which the economy is owned collectively by producers, living in a self-controlling and self-administering socialist democracy.
• That here and now the alternatives are either the continued deterioration of working-class living standards, and of the working class itself, as capitalist crisis erupts around us, or such a socialist system.
• That only the working class can create such a system, by taking control of society out of the hands of the capitalists.
• That for this to become possible, the existing labour movement must transform itself organisationally, by a process of democratisation and by breaking the undemocratic power of cliques, bureaucrats, and uncontrollable Parliamentarian elites within the organisations of the labour movement. That the Labour Party, gutted by the New Labour gang of Blair and Brown, must be restructured, rebuilt and reclaimed by the unions.
• That, simultaneously, the labour movement must re-arm itself politically with the ideas and the immediate goal of a revolutionary socialist transformation of society.
• That because socialism is impossible until the working class acts to realise it, and because there is only one working class and one mass labour movement, revolutionary socialists must work and organise within the existing labour movement, built by many decades and even centuries of working class struggle, to help the movement achieve this political and organisational self-renovation.
• That if those who hold to the basic ideas of revolutionary socialism refuse to do this, they condemn themselves to sterility, by way of impotent sideline carping at the movement as it has been shaped by history so far, and to sectarian irrelevance in the irreplaceable work of changing the movement.
• That there are in stark logic only two alternatives: either to fight to change the existing labour movement, including its old organic political wing, the Labour Party. Or, to adopt the project of building one’s own “pure” labour movement from the ground up, in parallel to the one the working class has so far created. And therefore that those who reject the former, and, implicitly, accept the latter, are in fact pessimistic and defeatist about the prospects facing the labour movement in the next historic period... no matter how “left” and “revolutionary” be their talk and their view of what they themselves are, and however “intransigent” and “uncompromising” their denunciations of the existing labour movement are.
For if we do not, in the relatively short period ahead, succeed in reorganising and politically transforming the existing labour movement, which is the only mass labour movement, and which holds the allegiance – often reluctant and by default — of millions of the most advanced workers, and if we fail to win it for revolutionary socialist politics, methods, and perspectives, then the working class will face another historic defeat
• That therefore there is great urgency about the work of organising a non-sectarian and anti-sectarian left wing in the labour movement, to help it make itself ready to answer the needs of the situation which the working class faces in capitalism’s crisis.
• That because such a left wing must unite the revolutionary left around a perspective of winning the existing labour movement to revolutionary socialism, it must also be a left wing which fights (by reason and argument) the sectarians who counterpose political shibboleths not in consonance with the class struggle or who counterpose their own organisations to those of the mass labour movement in a way which is destructive of the work that needs to be done.
•That this left must set itself the goal of winning the labour movement to fight immediately to drive the Tories out and install a workers’ government. This Workers Governnment will differ from even the best Labour governments so far. It will be based directly on the organisations of the labour movement. It will be under the labour movement’s direct control to as full an extent as possible. It will fight to serve the working-class interest against the bourgeoisie.