UK Public Sector Strike: Osborne Lights the Fuse to a Perfect Storm

30 November 2011 — Red Scribblings

Osborne’s mini-budget, spewed forth in the House of Commons the day before the two million-strong one-day public sector strike over pensions, is a big ‘fuck you’ to the majority of the population of the UK.

In response to an imminent double-dip recession, and the potential collapse of the Euro, with its cuts in tax credits and its multi-year 1% public sector pay limit brazenly redistributing wealth away from the poor to the very wealthy, he has lit the fuse to a social explosion that will undoubtedly be very different from the lumpen nihilism of the August riots. This is a provocation to the organised working class, an incitement to strike, and also an incitement to those outside of the trade unions to get organised!

The Cameron myth of ‘we’re all in it together’ looks pretty sick now. This is an even more brazen assault on the vast majority than the Poll Tax, or the Social Contract wage cuts under the 1974-79 Labour government which turned on the working class at the very dawning of neo-liberalism. The latter, however, was not initially presented as an attack on the majority, but as a trade-off for social reform that never materialised. There is nothing of the trade-off in Osborne’s latest package, not even the ‘cuts for growth’ trade-off that the coalition was promising earlier. Going beyond pension cuts to years long-pay freezes and benefit cuts in the face of unpredictable and high inflation, is a brazen incitement to workers to combine together and smash the pay limits.

It may not come immediately, but an explosion surely must come in the medium term. The two main  countervailing factors are the anti-union laws, and the electoral cycle. But in a real explosion of anger from below, if it were wide enough, these laws would be worth very little. Years of planned austerity, going on beyond this parliament, put the coalition in an extremely difficult position as they now plan still to be cutting when they go to the polls in 2015. The Labour Party under Milliband promises very little, but may shift rhetorical gears if and when something kicks off simply in order to protect its left-flank from any possible challenge.

Millliband’s barely social-democratic profile could perhaps be expanded a little under pressure from the  base of the unions. It is also likely that the closer we get to the end of this parliament, the more restive the Lib Dems will become, fearing being finally dragged down to electoral oblivion by Cameron and Osborne. Such signs of weakness while trying to impose years-long austerity could be the signal for real resistance from below, most likely in the form of a strike wave.

The Occupy London movement, part of the whole international phenomenon of soclial protest flowing, at least at the start, outside of the framework of seemingly moribund trade unions, is another sign of an explosion to come. But it comes under conditions which threaten to make trade union action of burning relevance again to millions who have hardly looked to them since the defeat of the miners in 1984-5, or in some ways even earlier.

But on its own, trade unionism also has its dangers, and cannot solve the overall problem. Indeed, a successful trade union rebellion that swept away this government would then again confront the same problem that happened in 1974. The Labour Party. After the greatest working class upsurge and victories in the 20th Century, Labour under Wilson and Callaghan bailed out capitalism politically and sought by stealth, with the help of the pro-capitalist trade union bureaucracy, to restore capitalist profitability by means of a steady erosion of working class living standards.

This led by massive demoralisation in the working class, a wave of racist sentiment that led to a frightening growth of fascism, and then Thatcher was able to take advantage of this to inflict major defeats on the working class and the whole idea of socialism.

But in those days, market fundamentalism was a rising trend in bourgeois terms. Now it is deeply discredited. Labour’s prolonged crisis, never resolved, is fundamentally a product of the failure of those days, the failure of reformism to deliver real reforms.  Blair tried to resolve that by doing away with the reformism, but that adoption of market fundamentalism with a (barely) human face, even writing it into the Labour Party constitution, just led to Labour overseeing a major, world-historic capitalist failure in 2008-10.

The political vacuum to the left of Labour is thus as wide as ever. We need a real party, not a sect like any of the existing far left groups, that can politically organise and represent our class, develop a genuinely socialist economic and political programme in collaboration with others around the world, and fight to bury capitalism, not save it. How we do that has to be a matter of sustained debate and activity,  looking to a new left party initiative that can take things in that direction.

At the moment, the only formation that even hints at the need for a new party is TUSC. But this is not a party: it may be a bridge to one but that is not clear and in any case any evolution towards that is likely to be complex. Among the main political aims of this blog is promoting the kind of discussions that will help in solving this problem, which is the main problem facing socialists today.

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