by Jack Staunton
A demonstration has been called for 4pm on Friday 10th October at the Bank of England (Threadneedle St, London EC2, Bank tube) with the slogan “We won’t bail out the bankers”.
Chris Bambery writes in Socialist Worker that “we need to take to the streets to demand, “No bail out for the bankers – we will not pay for their crisis!” From small acts of resistance we can craft a political force that can knock back those running this destructive system.”
Of course, working-class action amidst the financial crisis should not be some instrument for building a party, but rather action which actually helps us weather the storm of the economic situation. While demonstrations mocking bankers like Friday’s may seem attractive, the most pressing matter is not to make shallow propaganda arguing ‘look: capitalism is crumbling’ as if power is about to fall into our lap, but rather for the workers’ movement to organise to defend ourselves from the worst concrete effects of the current economic climate (which is not limited to side-effects of the financial slump). Unemployment and underemployment, casual work with no stability (as experienced by many of the UK’s 750,000 call centre workers) and huge increases in utilities bills are all set to become even more aggravated.
We have produced a leaflet ‘the cost of living: it’s time to act’ about reshaping the workers’ movement for modern realities – the text is below.
the cost of living – it’s time to act
A mere 22% of a typical household’s monthly income is left after tax and essential bills, down from 28% since 2003. The situation is getting worse. Costs have gone up across the board:
Increase of 10% for Electricity
Increase of 15% for Gas
Increase of 6.6% for Food
Increase of 20.2% for Petrol
Increase of 6.5% for Water
The government says wages must be kept down to stop inflation – but it’s not wages that are to blame. In May, over 90% of workers got wage rises beneath inflation. In fact the share of the overall economy going to wages has gone down this year, as it has every year since 1995. Wages are nowhere near enough to meet the rising costs. To make it worse, unemployment, which has never gone away, is rising fast.
On the other hand profits have reached new heights – up 17.5% in 2006 and 20.5% in 2007. The combined profits of the six energy companies doubled last year. Why do patronising politicians tell us we need to tighten our belts? Whilst the government blames the ‘global credit crunch’ there is another aspect -– this year the rate of profits has fallen by 13% and it is still falling, with share prices falling even faster. To protect their profit rates the capitalists and their government will continue to adopt measures such as raising prices, job cuts and intensifying exploitation. If they can get away with it.
We need a counter-crisis policy
A job is the most basic need of every worker; the only way we can provide for our needs is by selling our capacity to work to an employer. The policies of the TUC and Labour Party have failed. Some union leaders demand a ‘windfall tax’. Whilst communists are in favour of this, we know that on its own this is not an adequate remedy. Nor can we trust the TUC to co-ordinate action based on its Congress policies.
Communists say the labour movement needs to develop counter-crisis policy that including immediate ameliorative reforms, such as a real living wage, and a freeze on prices on essential goods and services. However, to measure up to the scale of the problems the labour movement requires a total renovation.
The official movement is so closely tied up to the system the prospects of it taking forward such a programme without a fight is remote. We can’t wait.
Communists call for the building of a united workers’ front from below to defend our interests and help rebuild our movement. On key problems we pose the following:
Job cuts and redundancies
Fighting job cuts is not the responsibility of individual workers but of the movement. They threaten the living standard of whole sections of the working class. It is not unrealistic to fight; the movement needs to draw a line on cuts, whether voluntary or compulsory.
The unemployed are part of the working class. It is the responsibility and in the interests of organised workers to defend their rights to decent benefits rates. The movement needs to end its abdication from fighting reactionary welfare reforms.
Rebuild workplace strength
Workplace organisation and union membership needs to be re-built in the new conditions of 21st century capitalism. If the officials will not fight then we need to take control, to combine and gain the confidence to act independently to combine. The familiar methods of the ‘broad lefts’ of machine politics and intrigue rather than rank and file action have had their day.
Break free from the captive unions
We need a movement that is independent and accountable to its members, not managers and politicians. The current movement is living in the past, and has no vision except a “return” to the state-welfarism of thirty years ago. We need organisations that can cope with the problems of today. If there is no prospect of reforming suffocating unions, then we need to consider splitting the TUC and creating a new body with those unions prepared to truly defend the interests of labour.
No common interests
Communists start from the recognition that we have no responsibility for the profitability of employers. Our solutions are not in their interests but in defence of the living standards and jobs of our class. In calling for a fight communists point out that we cannot afford to address the problems of society separately and rely on piecemeal changes to rely on piecemeal changes. All these problems are products of the system. They cannot be solved by any means short of the abolition of capitalism. The working class possesses within itself the capacity and ability to take control of industry and establish a free communist society fit for human beings. We need a movement from below which can transform the unions into organisations that are directly in the hands of the workers themselves and into vehicles for class struggle and the communist transformation of society.